Sinn Fein on course to triple seats
Published 25/05/2014 | 16:45
TAOISEACH Enda Kenny has conceded a major shift in Ireland's political landscape after voters turned in their droves to anti-austerity candidates in European, local and by-elections.
Despite the massive controversy over the arrest of Gerry Adams during the election campaign, Sinn Fein continues its march on the south and is on course to triple its council seats in the republic.
And in what has been dubbed Independents Day, non-party aligned candidates have swept to power across the country taking more than a quarter of the seats so far.
With more than half of the 949 council seats filled, senior government partner Fine Gael and sworn enemies Fianna Fail were locked in a battle to be the biggest party in the State at local authority level.
Despite its own electoral massacre at the last general election for its role in the economic crisis, Fianna Fail are buoyant about a comeback at the polls.
But it is the junior coalition partners Labour who are clearly bearing the brunt of the backlash for years of punishing cutbacks, with candidates losing seats nationwide.
High profile casualties in the Labour drubbing include Lord Mayor of Dublin Oisin Quinn and Lord Mayor of Cork Catherine Clancy.
Speculation is mounting about the possibility of an internal heave against Labour leader Eamon Gilmore, who is also Tanaiste and foreign affairs minister, in what some commentators have referred to as a War of the Roses.
The Taoiseach admitted voters were venting their anger, impatience and frustration.
"I know what's in it," he said.
"It's frustration, it's anger, and it's saying 'show me where the return on my challenge and the sacrifice I have made is'."
The Fine Gael/Labour government will now come under intense pressure to rebrand itself with focus shifting to a Cabinet reshuffle and an overhaul of its programme for government.
Sinn Fein's rise has also fuelled predictions the party could enter a ruling coalition in Dublin after the next general election, probably in two years time.
Mary Lou McDonald, the party's Dublin-born deputy leader who has been touted as a potential successor to Gerry Adams, said it would consider going into government.
"I don't think it would be simply a numbers game," she said.
"It would be a matter of whether or not you could produce a programme for government that really changed things and delivered real results for people's lives. That would be the litmus test."
In the European elections. counting continues in three large constituencies to elect 11 MEPs.
Initial predictions suggest Luke "Ming" Flanagan, an anti-establishment, pro-cannabis eurosceptic, would top the poll in the Midlands North West with Sinn Fein's Lynn Boylan expected to come out on top in Dublin.
Fianna Fail's Brian Crowley looks strongest in the South constituency, where Sinn Fein's Liadh Ni Riada could also claim a seat in Brussels.
Veteran Labour figure and Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte apologised to voters for pre-general election promises in 2011 that the party could not deliver.
"I'm sorry we weren't able to deliver on them," he said.
"I would love to have spared the people hardship especially those who have borne the brunt of the hardship.
"The reality was that the country was shipwrecked and needed to be pulled back from bankruptcy."
In a rare government victory, Fine Gael managed to retain its seat in a by-election in Longford-Westmeath, where Gabrielle McFadden takes over from her sister Nicky who died from motor neurone disease last March.
In the other by-election, a former Labour seat in Dublin West was won by the Socialist Party's Ruth Coppinger.
Such is the shift in voter preferences, former Fine Gael leader Alan Dukes raised the prospect of his party having to consider a coalition with Fianna Fail in future.
While there is little ideological difference between the centre-right parties, they have been historically split since taking opposing sides over the partition of Ireland during the foundation of the State.
In Northern Ireland, counting has been suspended for today.
So far, the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein have secured the lion's share on the new-look councils.
While the DUP won the most seats with 130, the party's 23.1% share of the vote was down around 4% on the last local election poll in 2011.
Sinn Fein came second in terms of seats with 105 but garnered the largest percentage of the overall vote.
The republican party's 24.1% share of first preferences was down slightly on its 24.8% in 2011.
The Ulster Unionists were the only one of the five main Stormont parties to increase the percentage, as smaller parties and independents scored some notable successes.