In a complete upending of the political establishment in the 26 Counties, Sinn Féin is being confirmed as the most popular party following the completion of tallies in yesterday’s general election.
Although official count announcements are just beginning, it is accepted that Sinn Féin has jumped from 10 percent in 2011 to more than 24 percent in this election, ahead of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael at 22 percent each.
The party’s candidates have topped the polls across the state and confirmation announcements of their first-count elections will be underway shortly.
At least 37 of the 42 Sinn Féin candidates are guaranteed or in serious contention for a seat. It could well end up as the largest party in the Dáil itself, putting Mary Lou McDonald in the frame to be Ireland’s first female Taoiseach.
The collapse in the combined vote of the two conservative parties to just 44 percent has spelled the end of traditional order of the past century, when the two old civil war sides, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael alternated power between them.
Pundits have been grappling with the significance, the most immediate being that both parties will have to make a u-turn from their statements that they would never enter government with Sinn Féin.
It was a self-defeating position, goading voters to force them to change their stance. It also made no sense, as both parties avidly welcomed the return of power-sharing in Belfast between Sinn Féin and the hardline unionist DUP.
The process may have already started: a veteran Fianna Fail TD, John McGuinness has already called foe his party to begin negotiations on a coalition, while a member of the party’s front-bench has predicted the next government will be a coalition between Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin.
Notably also, Fine Gael’s Richard Bruton, brother of the former Taoiseach John ‘Unionist’ Bruton, did not rule out Sinn Féin entering government, saying only that the party “will have to change dramatically”. Fine Gael grandee, Frank Flannery, said coalition discussions would have to take place with Sinn Féin.
Arriving into chaotic scenes at her count centre in Dublin, Ms McDonald said: “The two-party system in this country is now broken, it has been dispatched to the history books.”
She dismissed efforts by the mainstream media to play down the importance of the election.
“To try and characterise [Sinn Féin’s performance] as some kind of transient protest vote is to entirely miss the point,” she said.
She told journalists she will seek to gauge first if it is possible to form a government without FF or FG, and that she has already been in contact with Greens, Social Democrats and People Before Profit.
The list of political casualties and potentials is growing across the board for the other parties: former Labour leader Joan Burton, right-wing independent Shane Ross, socialist Paul Murphy, and Fianna Fail front-bencher Stephen Donnelly. Fine Gael Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy is also in deep trouble, just one of the party’s many losses.
In Dublin West, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is set to come in well behind Sinn Féin poll topper Paul Donnelly, but should still get elected. The same is true in Cork, where Tánaiste Simon Coveney and Fianna Fail leader Micheál Martin trail Sinn Féin’s Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire.
In Wicklow, Sinn Féin’s John Brady is set to top the poll by a wide margin ahead of Health Minister Simon Harris. Sinn Féin candidate Sorcha Clarke, who lost her Westmeath council seat last year when she got under 6 percent of the vote, is set to top the poll in Longford-Westmeath.
In Kerry, Pa Daly of Sinn Féin is 20% of the vote and he too looks set to be elected on the first count, alongside the two independent Healy-Rae brothers.
All of the ballot boxes in the Tipperary constituency are tallied and Sinn Féin’s Martin Browne in line to take the second seat after controversial independent TD Michael Lowry.
The completed tally in Clare has Sinn Féin’s Violet Ann Wynne topping the poll with almost 8,700 first preference votes.
Sinn Féin are also set to the top the polls in Carlow-Kilkenny with a significant surplus. Kathleen Funchion, who is the party’s spokesperson on children, is expected to get over 16,000 votes in the five-seater. The Kilkenny politician took 24 percent of the vote this time around compared to 12 percent in 2016.
It’s another breakthrough for SF in Wexford, where Johnny Mythen is expected to be returned on the first count after exceeding the quota by about 6,000 votes, despite losing his seat in the recent local elections.
In Meath East, almost half of the electorate voted republican. Sinn Féin’s Johnny Guirke will top the poll for the party with 30% of the vote, but Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín also looks set to be returned there on about 17% of first preferences.
NO MORE FFG
Darren O’Rourke, who is set to top the poll and take Sinn Féin’s first-ever seat in Meath East, says he’s certain that the public doesn’t want to see any return of a Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil government.
“Across the board there was a revolution at the ballot box, a huge move towards Sinn Féin across Meath and the State. It’s beyond our own expectations, if we’re being honest,” he said at the Meath East count centre in Ashbourne, where tallies give him nearly a quarter of first-preference votes. The first official count is expected later this afternoon.
“But there’s a palpable desire for change. It’s a really exciting time in politics,” he said. “The Irish people are standing up and shaking off the shackles and saying we deserve better and aren’t willing to settle for less.”
When asked what likely coalition could emerge, he said: “The worst option is a government that involves both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.
“We’re steadfast in our position that we need to be able to influence a programme for government. I’ve never been more hopful for the future.”
The party “did a lot of reflecting” after its 2019 losses in the local elections, he said. “But there’s a fundamental difference between a local election and a general election. Voters are asking different questions and seeking different things. They’re looking for broader policies and ideas.”