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All is changed

THE political landscape is set to be transformed today after a surge in voter turnout in the historic 2011 General Election.

Voters vengeful over the economic collapse turned out in their droves yesterday to give their verdict after three weeks of campaigning.

Fianna Fail is now facing an even bigger hammering after dominating Irish politics for more than 80 years, while Fine Gael will be propelled into office with leader Enda Kenny crowned Taoiseach.

The only question that remains is whether Mr Kenny will rule a majority government after sweeping into power with a landslide victory, or whether he will have to go into coalition either with Labour or a collection of Independents.

Labour, Sinn Fein and a host of left-wing and Independent candidates are also expected to be boosted by the high turnout.

Fianna Fail is braced for its worst-ever result in a general election, with the party hopeful of holding just under half its votes from 2007 and retaining up to 30 of its 78 seats. It hoped for a low turnout -- one endangered Cork-based Fianna Fail TD said he had been "praying for rain" -- but the fine weather contributed to a steady stream of voters throughout the day.

With voters bent on punishing Fianna Fail for the economic recession, Fine Gael was bullish about getting close to an overall majority of 83-plus seats in the 31st Dail.

A senior Fine Gael strategist said it was still "definitely in play" -- and predicted that the high turnout would benefit his party far more than Fianna Fail.

"I would genuinely think that people are voting for change and the strongest message for change has been ours. They are unlikely to be coming out in large numbers voting for Fianna Fail," he said.

But there is an acknowledgement in Fine Gael that other opposition parties will also benefit from the higher voter turnout, with one party source saying it was "good for everybody except incumbents".

Labour director of elections Ruairi Quinn said the high turnout was bad news for Fianna Fail -- and good for his party.

"There's been a massive swing back to Labour in terms of personal support during the campaign," he said.

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There were reports of strong voting activity nationwide. In total, 3.2 million voters were entitled to cast their votes at 6,000 polling stations yesterday. Two voters turned up outside a polling station in Ballincollig, Co Cork, at 6.50am to cast their ballots when it opened 10 minutes later.

Both were due to catch a flight to London but were adamant they wanted to cast their votes in the Cork North West constituency before they left.

Trinity College political scientist Professor Michael Marsh said there were good reasons to expect a high turnout.

"People are more interested in politics than they have been for some time and many of them are very angry and want to do something. All that will increase turnout," he said.

There was a 67pc turnout in the last general election.

But Prof Marsh said there were other factors which might lower the turnout, such as the possibility that many disillusioned Fianna Fail voters might just stay at home.

And he said it would be very hard to get an accurate turnout figure -- because the 3.2 million people on the register included tens of thousands who had emigrated and could not vote.

The impact of emigration was visible at the polling station in the Teagasc office in Longford town, according to its presiding officer Maggie Curley.

"I noticed mammies saying that their son or daughter won't be here to vote because they're abroad. That was sad and it's a sign of the times," she said.

In Wexford, 41pc of voters had cast their votes before tea-time, when voter numbers are traditionally boosted by another 30pc. Voting across Galway was brisk, with just over 30pc having voted by 5pm.

There was also a high turnout in Dublin -- with one polling station in the Dublin North East constituency recording a 48pc turnout before the tea-time rush. There was a strong early 40pc turnout in the Dublin South East constituency, where Green Party leader John Gormley is fighting to hold on to his seat.


Sinn Fein was organising mini-buses in Dublin South Central to get voters out. Its candidate Aengus O Snodaigh said the turnout was 3-4pc higher in most polling stations in the constituency than in 2007.

Mr Kenny's director of elections, Senator Paddy Burke, said he was confident that Fine Gael could take an historic four out of five seats in his Mayo constituency -- with one polling station in Castlebar registering a 46pc turnout by late afternoon.

But Fianna Fail director of elections Tony Killeen said a high turnout might not necessarily be bad for the party.

But one polling station co-ordinator in South Tipperary said staff had noticed a lot of the "die-hard" Fianna Fail supporters were staying at home.

In a sign of increasing desperation, Fianna Fail sent out emails from leader Micheal Martin and deputy leader Mary Hanafin to ask people to "call a friend" to get them to vote. Ms Hanafin said it could "grab us a few extra seats".

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