Fine Gael victorious as Fianna Fáil vote collapses
Results from constituencies across the country are showing electoral meltdown for Fianna Fáil, with Fine Gael poised to lead the next government.
While poised to fall short of an overall majority, Fine Gael is on course for its strongest showing in more than 28 years.
The Labour Party is enjoying its best result in a general election to date, with Fianna Fáil suffering its worst since the foundation of the party.
The share of first preference votes was: Fine Gael 36.1 per cent, Labour 19.4 per cent, Fianna Fáil 17.4 per cent, Sinn Fein 9.9 per cent, Independents 15.2 per cent and Green Party 1.8 per cent.
Latest counting suggests Fine Gael will win 76 seats, Labour will take 36 and Fianna Fáil will get 25, including outgoing Ceann Comhairle Seamus Kirk. Sinn Féin looks set to take 12, Independents will win 13, the United Left Alliance will take four and the Green Party will lose all six of their seats. The turnout was 70.1 per cent.
Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny, who was elected on the first count in Mayo, said the people of Ireland had given his party a “massive endorsement” to form the next government.
In an interview with RTÉ tonight, Mr Kenny said his party would be in government but it was too early to tell if it would be in power alone or in coalition with Labour. He said his priority would be to rebuild Ireland's economy.
“This little country will be seen to be the best in the world by 2016, to do business, raise a family and to grow old with dignity and respect," he said.
Fianna Fáil has been particularly badly hit in the Dublin area, where Brian Lenihan looks to be the only one of the party's 13 TDs in the capital contesting the election to retain their seat.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen conceded it had been a "difficult day for Fianna Fáil" but insisted his party took tough but necessary decisions while in office to stabilise the country's finances. Mr Cowen congratulated Fine Gael and Enda Kenny on "an outstanding performance".
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, elected on the first count in Cork South Central, said the result was “disappointing” for the party. “We were aware that we had a huge challenge in this election for a variety of reasons," he said. Former tánaiste Mary Coughlan was eliminated on the seventh count in Donegal South West, where Sinn Féin's Pearse Doherty was comfortably returned on the first count with 14,262 first preference votes, well ahead of the 10,816 quota.
Labour leader Eamon Gilmore, elected on the first count in Dún Laoghaire, said this afternoon it was too early to speculate on the formation of the next government.
Fine Gael’s Micheal Noonan, elected on the first count in Limerick City, said Labour would be his favoured option as coalition partners. He said he was not inclined to do business with Independents, “because they are high maintenance”.
Labour's Joan Burton became the first TD to be elected to the 31st Dáil this afternoon, topping the poll in Dublin West with 9,627 votes. Fine Gael's Leo Varadkar, became his party's first winner when he was elected on the second count. The United Left Alliance’s Joe Higgins was elected on the third count in the constituency and Brian Lenihan got through on the fourth count without reaching the quota.
“Labour has had a very good day," Ms Burton said, adding that she expected a large number of seats to go down to the wire late tomorrow.
Sinn Féin has also made gains. All its sitting TDs are expected to be returned and Seán Crowe regained the seat in Dublin South West he lost in 2007. Party president Gerry Adams was elected on the first count in Louth.
The Green Party has been wiped out. Party leader John Gormley, who was eliminated in Dublin South East after the fifth count, said tonight it was a sad day for the party, which had six TDs in the last Dáil. “We have suffered a major defeat, but the party will regroup, we will continue. We’re a party with a set of beliefs and values and a vision for the future,” he said.
In the five-seat Wicklow constituency, Fianna Fáil's Dick Roche appears to be struggling, while Fianna Fáil deputy leader Mary Hanafin and her running mate Barry Andrews have conceded defeat in Dún Laoghaire.
Former Fianna Fáil Ceann Comhairle and minister for justice John O’Donoghue was eliminated on the third count in Kerry South.
Independent Senator Shane Ross topped the poll in the five-seater Dublin South. He was elected on the first count, having exceeded the quota by nearly 5,000 votes.
In Wexford, Independent candidate Mick Wallace was elected on the first count, while Independent Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan took a seat in Roscommon South Leitrim. Former Fine Gael minister Michael Lowry, who is now running as an Independent, was elected in Tipperary North on the first count.