27 Feb 2011

Fine Gael biggest party in Ireland, suggest exit polls

6:27 am on 27 February 2011

Ireland's opposition Fine Gael party is set to lead the next government after the ruling Fianna Fail party slumped to its lowest result ever, according to an exit poll on Saturday.

Fine Gael, led by former teacher Enda Kenny, won 36.1% of the vote, its best since 1982 but not enough for a parliamentary majority, according to the Millward Brown Lansdowne poll for the RTE state broadcaster.

By contrast, Fianna Fail, led by the outgoing Prime Minister Brian Cowen, is on course for its worst ever general election result with 15.1%.

Mr Cowen and his government have been blamed for the country's economic crash and a deeply unpopular international bailout.

The Labour Party was on 20.5%, which would be its best ever share of the vote in a general election if confirmed by the results expected later on Saturday.

The BBC reports that Sinn Fein won 10.1% while support for the Greens, Fianna Fail's junior coalition partner, fell to 2.7%. Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams could top the poll in Louth.

Other candidates in a race with a record number of independents took 15.5%.

According to an analysis by Micheal Marsh, a professor at Trinity College Dublin, Fine Gael is on course for about 72 seats in the 166-seat Dail, or lower house of parliament - short of the 84 needed for a majority.

Fianna Fail will return with just 20 seats, a huge drop from the 77 it won in 2007, while Labour will win 38, says Marsh.

Meanwhile the number of independents is expected to soar from the last Dail, with 20 predicted to be elected, and Sinn Fein, which is stronger in Northern Ireland, looks set to triple its MPs to about 15.

RTE had earlier predicted a high turnout of about 70% of the 3.1 million people eligible to vote as people flocked to the ballot box to show their fury over the collapse of their economy.

Mr Kenny had capitalised on the anger against Fianna Fail, promising to attempt to renegotiate the terms of Ireland's massive debts.