Ipsos MRBI poll commissioned by RTÉ, Irish Times, TG4 and UCD
The outcome of a historic General Election is on a knife edge as the three main political parties look to be in a dead heat, according to a shock exit poll.
After weeks of speculation about the outcome of the election, Fine Gael, Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil were tied meaning the make up of the next Dáil is far from clear as polling begins.
Fine Gael (22.4pc) Sinn Fein (22.3pc) and Fianna Fail (22.2pc) are all even in terms of public support according to the shock poll.
The country is facing into the prospect of hung parliament once votes are counted and lengthy government formation talks are likely to follow.
The results indicate that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar may have managed to claw back support for Fine Gael in the dying days of the campaign.
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald does not seem to have lived up to her party’s expected surge in support. Ms McDonald is also running far less candidates than her rivals and is not expected to gain as many seats.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin will be disappointed that his party is polling in third place. However, Mr Martin constantly notes that his party under performs in opinion polls.
The Ipsos MRBI opinion poll for RTÉ, The Irish Times, TG4 and UCD showed the Green Party stands at 8pc, the Labour Party at 4pc, the Social Democrats at 3pc, Solidarity People Before Profit at 3pc and Independents at 11pc.
The opinion poll involved 5,376 respondents being surveyed at 250 polling stations around the country and the margin of error of 1.3pc.
A high early turnout was noted across the country this morning.
The Dublin County returning officer noted a 20pc turnout across a selection of schools by 12 noon.
A breakdown of attendance figures showed 18.5pc of voters visited St Malaga's NS, Ballbriggan by 12 noon, while 21pc attended Skerries Community Centre.
In Dublin-West, 18.6pc of voters were recorded at Laurel Lodge, and 23pc at St John Bosco NS Hall, Navan Road.
As for Dublin Mid-West, turnout figures as high as 16.4pc have been reported at Lucan Educate Together, and Scoil Aine Naofa have 20pc.
A high turnout of 27pc has been recorded at Glenageary/Killiney N.S. Wyvern, Dun Laoghaire.
Meanwhile, Athboy in Co Meath has seen the highest turnout in that area so far today, with 18pc stepping out to cast their vote.
Turnout in Longford-Westmeath was slow this morning before becoming busy just before the Ireland vs Wales Six Nations clash began at 2.15pm.
A turnout of 15.5 pc cast their votes in Mullingar, Co Westmeath by 1pm today.
Athlone saw a turnout of 15.25 pc, while Longford recorded 20 pc.
The Cork returning office reported a "brisk morning" at the polling stations.
In Roscommon, there was tea and cake laid on when 103-year-old Michael Coyne arrived at the polling station in Boyle.
Michael flashed his Fianna Fail membership card and announced that Micheal Martin is going to be the next Taoiseach, after casting his vote at Scoil na nAingeal Naofa .
Born on January 14, 1917 he was around in 1918, the last time a general election was held in Ireland on a Saturday. As he well knows it was also an election when Sinn Fein made its mark with the election of Countess Markievicz, Michael Collins and Eamon deValera heralding the arrival of a new dawn in Irish politics. He is inclined to think the party is going to be a significant player this time round too.
"I think Michal Martin will be Taoiseach – but he will have trouble ahead,” he chuckled. “I think he should join up with Sinn Fein. I am not too fond of Sinn Fein, but they are as good as Fine Gael”.
Ireland's President and the main political leaders have also cast their votes in one of the most unpredictable General Elections for years.
Sinn Fein could challenge the 90-year duopoly of the state's two main parties, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, and the process of forming a coalition Government could be challenging, opinion polls suggest.
President Michael D Higgins was accompanied by his wife Sabina at a Dublin polling station.
Micheal Martin, the leader of main opposition party Fianna Fail, voted with his wife, daughter and two sons early on Saturday morning in Co Cork.
Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar is facing a difficult battle to hang on to power - recent polls put his party behind Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein.
He brought a box of Roses sweets for count staff at his polling station in west Dublin.
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald also cast her vote in the capital on an "important" day.
She said: "Today is the day that people are in charge and every single vote counts.
"People have told us throughout this campaign that they want change, that they want a change in our presentation and they want a change in government, so I am saying to people please come out today and vote for a change.
"Bring your family, your neighbours and friends and come down and use your vote - today is your day."
In the last major survey of the electorate before polling day, Sinn Fein was leading the popularity stakes on 25pc, with Fianna Fail second on 23pc and Mr Varadkar's party on 20pc.
If those levels of support are borne out when counting begins on Sunday, it would herald a major breakthrough for Sinn Fein south of the border.
The odds would still be stacked against Ms McDonald leading the next government as Taoiseach since Sinn Fein only fielded 42 candidates in the race for the Dail parliament's 160 seats.
No party is expected to reach the 80-seat threshold to enable it to govern on its own, and a coalition administration of some complexion is almost inevitable.
Sinn Fein may be unable to find enough like-minded left-leaning allies to form a workable government.
Fianna Fail and Fine Gael are both centre-right in outlook and appeal to middle Ireland so have unequivocally ruled out any partnership with Sinn Fein.
For either to change position on coalition partners would represent a major U-turn.
If that case Sinn Fein would be unlikely to secure a place in the next government.
Fianna Fail topped the opinion polls early in the campaign, and leader Mr Martin could yet emerge as the next Taoiseach.
Mr Varadkar, meanwhile, will be hoping his administration's economic record and handling of the Brexit process will convince enough voters to renew his tenure in Government Buildings.
Brexit did not feature prominently in a campaign dominated by domestic issues like spiralling rental prices, record-breaking homeless numbers, controversy over the state pension age and a struggling health service.
There appears to be a mood for change and Sinn Fein could attract support from younger voters who want to end Fine Gael's nine years in power but are unwilling to trust Fianna Fail again after the financial crash that tarnished its last term of office.
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