Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar and Fianna Fáil leader Michéal Martin are in a neck-and-neck race to lead the next government as the predicted surge in support for Sinn Féin appears to have been realised.
With the counting of votes in 39 constituencies due to begin today, Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin are all within touching distance of each other in one of the most dramatic elections in recent times, according to an exit poll.
Despite fears of a Fine Gael collapse, the party’s first preference vote is at 22.4 per cent in the poll carried out by Ipsos MRBI for RTE, The Irish Times, TG4 and UCD. The figure is down on its 25 per cent vote share in 2016, but ahead of Sinn Féin on 22.3 per cent and Fianna Fáil on 22.2 per cent.
Fianna Fáil is hoping that it will do far better on transfers than Fine Gael to win the final seats in constituencies, but Micheál Martin’s hopes of becoming Taoiseach at the third attempt have been set back by the stunning rise of Sinn Féin.
Mary Lou McDonald’s party is set to increase its tally of seats on the 23 it won in the last election. A shortage of Sinn Féin candidates means that transfers from its surplus votes could decide a number of final seats.
This could help the Green Party which is set to exceed its previous record of six Dáil seats after the exit poll put it on 7.9 per cent of the vote.
Labour is at risk of losing some of its seven seats after securing a disappointing 4.6 per cent in the exit poll. Independent candidates are on 11.2 per cent, followed by the Social Democrats (3.4 per cent) and Solidarity-People Before Profit (2.8 per cent) and Aontu (1.8 per cent)
Fine Gael TDs will be fearing the loss of up to 15 of the 50 seats the party won in the 2016 general election.
The last RTE exit poll for the 2016 general election was a good indicator of the performance of Fine Gael and Labour, but Fianna Fáil ended up three percentage points higher when the final votes were counted, while Sinn Féin was two percentage points lower.