Sinn Féin tops polls in Irish election shattering Ireland’s two-party system

Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald during the Irish General Election count at the RDS in Dublin.

Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald during the Irish General Election count at the RDS in Dublin. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire. - Credit: PA

Sinn Féin has topped the polls in Ireland's general election after the first round of counting in all 39 constituencies.

The party received 24.5% of the vote share compared to Fianna Fail on 22.2% and Fine Gael on 20.9%.

Despite that, Fianna Fail remains best placed to secure the most seats, primarily due to Sinn Féin's failure to field enough candidates to capitalise on its unexpected surge at the polls.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin has failed to rule out entering government with Sinn Féin after an election set to transform the political landscape in Ireland.

While Martin declined the opportunity to repeat his pre-election pledge never to do business with Sinn Féin, Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar did re-state his determination not to partner up with Mary Lou McDonald's party.

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Martin later cautioned observers not to "jump the gun" in interpreting his remarks as a signal an alliance with Sinn Féin was in the offing.

McDonald said she was willing to talk to all political leaders but expressed a desire to lead a coalition made up of left-leaning parties, without any input from Fianna Fail or Fine Gael, which are both centre-right in outlook.

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While it remains unclear whether it will ultimately be part of any future coalition, Sinn Féin's performance has undoubtedly sent shockwaves through Ireland's political establishment.

Final results remain a long way off, with counting set to continue through Monday, but the first wave of declarations suggest it is set to shatter Ireland's long-established two-party system.

Fianna Fail looks in prime position to return as the largest party with Fine Gael braced for the loss of several seats.

No party will come close to securing the 80 seats required for a majority in the Dail parliament, so some form of coalition government is inevitable.

If parties do ultimately stick to their pre-election pledges then it would be extremely difficult for any of the three to lead a majority government.

MORE: Counting starts in Irish election as exit poll shows dead heat between three parties

MORE: Mary Lou McDonald could take Sinn Féin into the political mainstream

Smaller parties such as the Greens, Labour, the Social Democrats and Solidarity/People Before Profit, and a sizeable number of independent TDs, may all be courted as the main parties seek junior coalition partners.

Arriving at the count centre in Dublin, McDonald branded talk of excluding her party as "undemocratic".

She said she had been in touch with the Greens, Social Democrats and People Before Profit to discuss the prospect of them joining her party in government.

"It's been an election about change," she said.

"The extraordinary thing is that it seems that the political establishment, and by that I mean Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, are in a state of denial.

"They are still not listening to what the people have said.

"I want us to have a government for the people. I want us to have ideally a government with no Fianna Fail or Fine Gael in it.

"I have started the contact with other parties to explore over the next days whether that is a possibility.

"I also have to say this, that in any event I do not accept the exclusion, or talk of excluding our party, a party that represents almost a quarter of the electorate.

"I think that is fundamentally undemocratic."

Asked if the result marked a revolution in Irish politics, McDonald replied: "Yes, you could call it that for sure."

The uncertainty created by the exit poll has even thrown up the possibility of another General Election being necessary.

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