According to exit polling reports, Sinn Féin, a left-wing nationalist party, surged in popularity during Irish national elections on Saturday, February 8. The elections, which were held to elect representatives in the Dáil Éireann, or Lower House of the Irish Parliament, will be setting the tone of the government for the next several years.
When the polls closed, the results were too close to call. The two other major parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael – centrist parties that have held government majorities for nearly a century – were apparently in a dead heat with Sinn Féin.
For decades, Sinn Féin has struggled to garner a majority of nationwide votes. With ties to the Irish Republican Army (IRA) – a mostly defunct paramilitary organization that sought an end to British rule over Northern Ireland – other major parties have traditionally refused to work with them.
Mixed reaction from leaders
The surge in Sinn Féin’s popularity came as a firm rebuke to the power of centrist coalition governments, including that of Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar – known as the Taoiseach in Ireland – of the Fine Gael party. After the election, Varadkar was adamant that his opinion on Sinn Féin has not changed.
He said it would be difficult to find common ground with Sinn Féin “in large part because of their policies in relation to crime, tax and the way the economy and society should be run and also our deep concerns about their democratic structures.” On Sunday evening, February 9, he told reporters that he sees a difficult road ahead. “We don’t believe a coalition between Sinn Féin and Fine Gael is a viable option,” he said.
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin’s leader, Mary Lou McDonald, characterized the election as “something of a revolution in the ballot box.” In a tweet on February 9, she promised party supporters “we will now do everything we can to secure a government for the people.
“I do not accept the exclusion or talk of excluding our party, a party that represents now a quarter of the electorate and I think that that is fundamentally undemocratic,” she told journalists in Dublin on February 9.
At the threshold
In this year’s election, there were 160 parliamentary seats up for grabs. In the last election, held in 2016, Sinn Féin won only 23 seats. While exit polling strongly suggests Sinn Féin will garner a significantly higher proportion of seats this time around, the final results have not yet been released.
Final numbers are expected to be released on February 10 or 11.