The big winners are the small parties and independents

 

Fianna Fáil are heading for an overall majority in the General Election. With crucial final seats across the nation going their way, the party are tantalisingly close to securing their first single-party administration since 1977. Fine Gael, meanwhile, is heading for the worst election result in its history with a loss of around 20 seats likely.

High profile Fine Gael candidates in key constituencies around the country have lost their seats or are on the verge of doing so; Mr Jim Mitchell, Mr Alan Dukes, Mr Alan Shatter have all lost their seats. Mr Charlie Flanagan is reported to be in trouble in Laois/Offaly. The party's leader, Mr Michael Noonan has resigned this evening as a result of the party's collapse.

Early this morning former deputy leader Ms Nora Owen lost her seat after an electronic count in Dublin North. Mr Louis Belton in Longford/Roscommon is in serious trouble and Mr Gerry Reynolds in Sligo/Leitrim has lost his seat.

Fine Gael's strategists are now predicting the party will achieve around 32 seats, down from 54 at the last election.

Both the Tánaiste and the Labour Party leader Mr Ruairi Quinn said they believed Fianna Fáil would secure an overall majority.

The Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, managed to bring home his running mate, Dr Dermot Fitzpatrick, which has been identified as a key indicator of whether Fianna Fáil can form a single-party government.

At the time of writing, the party standings are: Fianna Fáil 67 seats, Fine Gael 25, Labour 18, Sinn Féin four, Progressive Democrats four, Green Party five, Socialist Party one, and Others ten.

Among the most spectacular winners were Sinn Féin whose greatest hope, Mr Seán Crowe, was elected in Dublin South West on the first count with 7,466 first-preference votes.

In Kerry North, Mr Martin Ferris was elected on the second count, while Mr Arthur Morgan secured a seat in Louth at Labour's expense. Sitting TD Mr Caoimhghin O'Caolain comfortably retained his seat in Cavan/Monaghan.

Independent candidates have also fared well with surprise results in Mayo where Dr Jerry Cowley has unseated Fianna Fáil's Ms Beverly Cooper-Flynn or either Mr Jim Higgins or Mr Enda Kenny of Fine Gael. Dr Liam Twomey in Wexford has pulled off a shock by stopping Fianna Fáil from gaining a third seat.

Independent socialist Mr Finian McGrath unseated Labour's Mr Derek Mc Dowell while Mr James Breen has taken a seat from Fine Gael in Clare. Ms Kathy Sinnott in Cork South Central and Mr Paddy McHugh in Galway East are among the independents in the hunt for a seat.

Among the independents in trouble are Ms Mildred Fox in Wicklow who could lose to Labour newcomer Mr Nicky Kelly and Mr Jackie Healy-Rae in Kerry South who was been elected on the seventh count. But a recount has been called in both constituencies.

Recounts are also under way in Limerick West and Dublin Central.

Fianna Fáil have succeeded or look like retaining seats vacated by retirees, however, perhaps the biggest upset of the campaign happened in Westmeath when the party's deputy leader, Mrs Mary O'Rourke who lost her seat to coleague Mr Donie Cassidy.

Among the party's Dáil newcomers are: Mr John Curran in Dublin Mid-West, Mr Charlie O'Connor in Dublin South West and Mr Tom McEllistrom in Kerry North.

The Greens have increased their representation from two to five. Mr Paul Gogarty and Mr Eamon Ryan have been returned in Dublin constituencies, while Mr Ciaran Cuffe in Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown follow the returning TDs Mr Trevor Sargent and Mr John Gormley in to the 29th Dail. In Cork South Central Mr Dan Boyle has a real chance of adding a sixth seat.

Fortunes for the Labour Party have been mixed. Former leader Mr Dick Spring, Finance spokesman, Mr Derek McDowell and Louth deputy Mr Michael Bell have lost seats. But Mr Joe Costello, Ms Joan Burton and Mr Joe Sherlock have made gains, while Ms Kathleen Lynch and Mr Nicky Kelly are also in with a real chance of a gain.

The Minister for Health, Mr Martin was elected with the largest majority, with a first-preference vote of 14,764 in Cork South Central.

Manual counting got underway at 9 a.m., while counting in the three "electronic" constituencies - Dublin North, Dublin West and Meath - finished in the early hours of this morning. Fianna Fáil secured half of the first 12 seats, after the "electronic" count ended.