Historic election is underway
Historic election is underway

Polling stations will remain open until 10pm on Friday in what is sure to be one of the most significant Irish elections in recent times. Voting has already begun on Ireland’s offshore islands.

The counting of votes in the election to the Dublin parliament will begin at 9am on Saturday, with the first counts expected in the late afternoon.

Voters will elect 165 TDs in 43 constituencies across the 26 Counties.

When parliament was dissolved on February 1st, Fianna Fáil had 73 TDs, Fine Gael had 51, Labour 20, the Green Party six, Sinn Féin five, and Others eight.

Offshore voting began in Donegal and Mayo on Wednesday, with a low turn-out of about 50 per cent on Tory Island partly blamed on the recent wave of emigration.

However, turnout reached 76 per cent on Clare Island, an island with a tradition of very high turnouts.

Islanders off the coast of County Galway began voting on Thursday, casting their votes in the knife-edge Galway West constituency.

An exit poll is set to be released on Saturday morning as counting begins at 9am, and unofficial tallies from the varius count centres across the country will be available by midday.

The first declarations are expected by late Saturday afternoon.

On the eve of the election, the polls indicated that Fianna Fail, after 14 years in power, face decimation. The extraordinary possibility of the party losing some two thirds of its representation in the Dail has seen acts of political desparation in some constituencies, with many Fianna Fail TDs ignoring party loyalty and fighting for himself or herself.

Their Green Party allies are still odds-on to be wiped out completely.

Fine Gael appears increasingly certain to gain power, with the only question whether a humbled Labour party will share power with them.

Sinn Fein and other progressives such as the United Left Alliance could be poised to transform their strength and influence in the Dail -- the extent depending on turnout and transfers.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny made a final appeal to voters yesterday urging them to turn their anger against the current administration into action when they vote.

He said the country was living with a national heartbreak as it reeled from the “national confidence trick” pulled on it by the Government and those to whom it had ceded power, the developers and banks.

“If this election is to take the political pulse of our nation, I want every beat and every vote to show a nation that looks with hope, generosity and courage to the future, and not with regret or hurt and bitterness of the past,” he said.

Approaching the same level in the opinion polls, election analysts have suggested Sinn Fein could likely take seats from Fianna Fail in a number of constituencies.

In Cork, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin issued an appeal to his party’s traditional supporters not to desert the party for Sinn Fein. He claimed that Fianna Fáil would make a vital contribution to the next Dail by coming up with ideas that would help Ireland recover.

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore again urged the electorate not to grant a monopoly of power to any one party saying that for the difficult tasks ahead the country needed a government that reflected the broad range of opinion in the country.

“We need a fair and balanced government, that brings people together. Labour is the party best placed to bring people together to take on our problems, and build a better and fairer Ireland.”

The newly formed ‘United Left Alliance’ will establish a political party of the left if it has a “good result” in the election, according to Socialist Party MEP Joe Higgins. He predicted the alliance of the small Socialist Party, the smaller ‘People before Profit’ organisation and other left-wing individuals could win six seats in the next Dáil.

Sinn Féin’s Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said the issue of transfers would be “crucial” and he called on voters who would not normally support his party to “ensure a strong responsible republican voice” in the next Dáil.

He said that the campaign had seen people turning to Sinn Féin in greater numbers.

“This includes many who previously supported Fianna Fáil. We encourage more to do so. Voters who traditionally supported Fianna Fáil in the belief that they served the nation have the opportunity to support a genuinely republican party – Sinn Féin.

“Above all Sinn Féin urges people to come out and cast their vote. The Irish people can emerge from this recession and the first step is to help shape the future by making your democratic choice on polling day.”

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