Published: Sun, February 09, 2020
Worldwide | By Lisa Hogan

Ireland goes to the polls in most unpredictable General Election in years

Ireland goes to the polls in most unpredictable General Election in years

But Sinn Fein, which has appealed to younger voters on the defining issue of the election - the cost and availability of housing - has put forward too few candidates to capitalize, as the groundswell of support caught the party itself off guard after it sunk to 9 per cent at local elections past year.

While Sinn Fein is a major force in Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom region where it is part of the power-sharing government that helped end decades of sectarian violence, it has always been a minor player south of the border in the Irish Republic.

The outgoing government party, Fine Gael, has rallied despite negative polls. But the party's left-wing proposals for tackling Ireland's housing crisis and creaking health care system are striking a chord.

Fianna Fail has ruled out going into coalition for the first time with Fine Gael and both parties say they will not govern with Sinn Fein, meaning there is no obvious government to be formed, he added.

"We just need a change in Ireland, it's very obvious", said Eilis Wall, a 40-year-old preschool owner who travelled 200 km (125 miles) to Dublin from the western county of Clare on Wednesday to join thousands of childcare workers calling for better state funding.

Vote counting starts Sunday, and it could be Monday before the election's results are determined.

Varadkar is Ireland's first mixed-race and openly gay prime minister who has come to represent a more socially progressive country after years of dominance by the Roman Catholic church.

Micheal Martin, the leader of main opposition party Fianna Fail, voted with his wife, daughter and two sons early on Saturday morning in Co Cork in the south.

However, David Farrell, a professor of politics at University College Dublin, told the Reuters news agency that the elections could be critical for Sinn Fein, which moved younger voters on the decisive issue of the elections: cost and availability of housing.

Following Ireland's 2016 election it took 70 days before a new minority coalition government was formed under Fine Gael.

"There'll have to be significant compromise, and rowing back from election commitments, or else Ireland will be voting again this year".

He said: "Remember, Paul Quinn was beaten to death by a gang of men who broke every single bone in his body".

Party leader Mary Lou McDonald condemned the slaying as "barbaric".

Sinn Fein has made a referendum on Irish unity within the next five years a pre-condition for entering government.

Mr Varadkar, meanwhile, will be hoping his administration's economic record and handling of the Brexit process will convince enough voters to renew his tenure in Government Buildings.

But Brexit looks likely to nudge Northern Ireland's economy closer to that of its southern neighbor, and could yet increase pressure for a vote on unification.

With Fine Gael and Fianna Fail marginally down, the outcome demonstrated some appetite for change.

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