Fine Gael is poised to lead the next government and secure its best election result after the coalition parties in the outgoing government suffered an electoral meltdown.
Fine Gael has secured 70 seats of the 153 seats filled so far. Labour is on 35 Fianna Fáil 18, Sinn Féin 13, ULA four and Independents 13. There are just 13 seats left to be filled in four constituencies.
Fine Gael is likely to fall short of an overall majority in the 166-seat Dáil.
For Fianna Fáil, the result is its worst since the foundation of the party, while the Labour Party has enjoyed its best result in a general election to date. Sein Féin looks set to triple its number of TDs, while the Green Party has lost all six of its seats.
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. 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. "We now stand at a transformative moment in Ireland's history. We stand on the brink of fundamental change in how we regard ourselves, how we regard our economy and how we regard our society," Mr Kenny told supporters in a Dublin hotel.
The Fine Gael leader, who himself led a ticket of four successful Fine Gael candidates in Mayo, said he would also lead a government "worthy of the trust of the people".
In an interview with RTÉ, Mr Kenny said it was too early to tell if Fine Gael 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.
Labour leader Eamon Gilmore, who was elected on the first count in Dún Laoighaire, said today his party is willing to enter into talks with Fine Gael about forming a coalition. However, he said there has been no contact regarding such a deal so far.
Fianna Fáil suffered a number of high profile casualties, including Mary Coughlan, Mary O’Rourke, Mary Hanafin, Sean Haughey, Barry Andrews and Conor Lenihan. The party has been particularly badly hit in the Dublin area, where Brian Lenihan was the only Fianna Fáil candidate to take a seat. It now has no women TDs.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen conceded last night 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. He congratulated Fine Gael and Mr Kenny on "an outstanding performance".
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, elected on the first count in Cork South Central, said the overall 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.
Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said today he would not countenance going into government with Fine Gael. He said a good government requires a good opposition and vowed his party would oppose the "swingeing, anti-citizen, economically-illiterate measures" being proposed by the establishment parties.
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.
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 yesterday,, topping the poll in Dublin West. Fine Gael's Leo Varadkar, became his party's first winner when he was elected behind Ms Bruton 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 significant gains. All its sitting TDs were returned, Seán Crowe regained the seat in Dublin South West he lost in 2007 and it has won a number of new seats.
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.
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, topped the poll in Tipperary North.