Exit poll shows Fine Gael and Labour heading for a meltdown
Fianna Fáil 'to double its seats'
Fine Gael and the Labour Party have suffered a General Election meltdown that could leave the country facing into a Grand Coalition or a second election.
An exit poll indicates the outgoing Coalition has no chance of being returned - and no other block or gruop of parties has made a significant breakthrough.
Fianna Fáil has made a comeback and will remain the second biggest party but at 22.9pc will struggle to form an alternative government.
The poll shows that Fine Gael got 26.1pc of first-preference votes while Lbaour got just 7.8pc. This is one-fifth fewer what they achieved in 2011.
If those results play out once boxes are opened this morning, the positions of Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Joan Burton as leaders of their parties will be in doubt.
Late last night, Mr Kenny's constituency colleagues Michael Ring refused to say if his leadership was secure.
Micheal Martin will be able to clain a small victory by raising Fianna Fáil's vote from 17pc five years ago to 22.9pc today.
Former minister Mary Hanafin said that figure could help the party to nearly double its seats in Leinster House to around 40 which would be an "enormous boost".
The Irish Times poll by Ipsos MRBI put Sinn Féin on 14.9pc, which is considerably short of where they have been in most opinion polls over the past year.
However, it should give Gerry Adams's party more than 20 seats.
The big winners were Independents and others who collected 28.3pc of support as voters moved toward left-wing politicians.
The AAA-PBP won 3.6pc, the Green Party 3.5pc, Social Democrats 2.8pc and Renua Ireland 2.6pc.
The poll was conducted among a national sample of 5,260 voters at 200 polling stations throughout all 40 constituencies. The accuracy level is estimated to be about plus or minus 1.2pc.
Coalition sources were last night devastated by the poll results, saying it would lead to major fallout in both parties.
Ex-Fine Gael strategist Frank Flannery described the situation as "unprecedented".
Enda Kenny and Micheál Martin have insisted throughout the campaign that they will not do business together.
However, there is now likely to be intense pressure on their parties to consider a coalition in order to provide stability.
The Dáil is due to sit again on March to elect a new Taoiseach, but on these figures that is extremely unlikely to happen.
Around two million people cast their vote by the time polling stations closed at 10pm.
Turnout was uneven across the regions with booths in rain-sodden parts of Cork and Waterford much less busy than other areas during the day.
Reports also suggest that turnout in urban areas was down on the 2011 General Election, when it was 70pc nationally.
More than 550 candidates are fighting in 40 constituencies for 158 Dail seats
Fine Gael went into the campaign on the back of a series of poll boosts that pushed them over 30pc, meaning major questions will now be asked about their strategy. The party's 'keep the recovery going' slogan was badly received in large parts of the country and had to be toned down after the first week.
Experts are predicting one of the longest election counts ever, and it will be days before the full formation of the next Dáil is clear.
Dr Theresa Reidy, a lecturer in the Department of Government at UCC, said that a number of tight races could delay the final result until the middle of next week.
"One of the major reasons we think it'll take longer this time is the Supreme Court case which really established that a candidate can ask for a full recount," she said. "The concern is there will be a lot of tight races and that will lead to a longer process," she added.
Dr Reidy was referring to a recent Supreme Court judgment which resulted in a total recount of votes cast in the May 2014 local elections for the Listowel electoral area of North Kerry. This is likely to weigh heavily on the minds of some returning officers.
In December, five judges unanimously upheld a claim from former senator Dan Kiely that there was a "mistake" in the conduct of the local election. The error arose from the inclusion in the count of votes which contained a sequence of numbers not starting with the number '1'.
Dr Reidy said returning officers were likely to pay extra attention to ballot papers - and could be more inclined to agree to requests for a recount than in previous elections.