Ireland general election: Sinn Féin surges to 22% in exit poll

Republican party level with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil in Saturday evening’s poll

By Rory Carroll

Sinn Féin has scored dramatic gains in Ireland’s general election, according to an exit poll on Saturday night, realigning Irish politics and boosting the party’s chance of joining the next government.

The republican party won 22.3% of the vote while Leo Varadkar’s ruling Fine Gael party slumped to 22.4%, the poll said, potentially spelling an end to Varadkar’s tenure as taoiseach. Fianna Fáil, the main opposition party, won 22.2%.

If replicated in actual results it would signal an unprecedented tie among the three parties, leaving it unclear which, if any, could woo smaller parties and independents to form a parliamentary majority and ruling alliance.

Sinn Féin’s surge – up from 13.8% in the 2016 general election – reflected the anger of voters, especially among the young, at soaring rents and homelessness.

The party’s leader, Mary Lou McDonald, cast the party as a leftwing agent of change that would break up the duopoly of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, centrist rivals that have alternated in power for a century.

Sinn Féin, shunned by voters as the IRA’s political wing during the Troubles, also tapped voter frustration at hospital bed shortages, insurance costs, pension reform and a sense of being left behind by economic growth. The party’s agenda for Irish unification, and Northern Ireland in general, took a backseat in the campaign.