Taoiseach considers snap poll and new coalition after surge in FG popularity
Election lifts Taoiseach's hopes to enter new pact with smaller parties
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has privately suggested he could form a coalition with smaller parties if he called a snap election, the Sunday Independent can reveal.
It comes after an exit poll compiled on the eve of the presidential contest showed Fine Gael's popularity surging ahead of Fianna Fail.
Buoyed by the historic re-election of President Michael D Higgins and the passing of a referendum to remove blasphemy from the Constitution, the Taoiseach is considering his options ahead of this week's confidence and supply negotiations.
Mr Varadkar has privately said a series of strong poll results has opened up the possibility of a future coalition with smaller parties such as the Labour Party and Green Party after the next general election.
The yesterday's exit poll results for the three parties have Fine Gael (35pc), Labour (7pc) and Greens (4pc) holding 46pc of the vote, which would open up the possibility of coalition negotiations after a general election.
Asked whether he was tempted to call an election on the back of the poll, the Taoiseach said there was a "lot of talk" about middle Ireland and standing up for people who get up early in the morning during the presidential election campaign.
"I have been head of a government and part of a government of the past three years which has very much being the party of people who get up early in the morning, the party for middle Ireland," he told RTE's Six One News.
"What I am saying we have done a lot for middle Ireland whether it is full employment, increases in the minimum wage, benefits for the self-employed, cuts to income tax and USC.
"We did that with 25pc of the vote and a minority government, imagine what we could do with a majority," he added.
The development comes as President Higgins, swept back into Aras an Uachtarain with a record-breaking 55.8pc of the vote, when counting was completed last night.
Mr Higgins was followed by businessman Peter Casey, who took a significant 23.3pc of the vote despite making controversial comments about the Travelling community and people in receipt of social welfare payments.
Sean Gallagher was on 6.4pc, Sinn Fein's Liadh Ni Riada 6.4pc, Pieta House founder Joan Freeman 6pc, and television personality Gavin Duffy 2.2pc.
Meanwhile, the exit poll carried out by Red C on behalf of RTE showed Fine Gael (35pc) is now 13pc ahead of Fianna Fail (22pc) in terms of public support.
Mr Varadkar is hugely encouraged by his party's standing in the polls and has privately noted it opens up the possibility of Fine Gael forming a government with smaller parties.
Senior Fine Gael figures were also last night refusing to rule out the possibility of an election before the end of the year.
One Cabinet source said the option of a December election was still on the table as Fine Gael and Fianna Fail begin reviewing the confidence and supply agreement which has underpinned the Government for the past three years.
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin has also come under pressure from within his party to abandon renewal talks and face the electorate. Mr Martin was told by TDs at a parliamentary party meeting last week that Fianna Fail members were tired of propping up Fine Gael and wanted to contest a general election.
Two senior Fianna Fail TDs, Barry Cowen and Jim O'Callaghan, who were dropped from the party's negotiating team are understood to be eager to fight an election.
The two parties will this week trade documents as part of the review of the confidence and supply agreement. Mr Martin told his party he expects the review to take until the end of the new year and only after that will negotiations begin on a new deal.
Meanwhile, the state of the other parties is: Sinn Fein 15pc, the Labour Party 7pc, the Green Party 4pc, the Social Democrats 3pc, Solidarity/People Before Profit 2pc, Independents 4pc, Change 2pc, and Independent Alliance 1pc.
Fine Gael is ahead of Fianna Fail across all demographics, including age, gender, social class and region.
The poll will be of major concern to Micheal Martin - as Fine Gael's support in Dublin (34pc) is more than double that of Fianna Fail (13pc).
As the presidential elections results flooded in last night, established political parties were seeking to distance themselves from controversial candidate Peter Casey.
However, the RTE exit poll showed 30pc of voters who gave Mr Casey a first preference vote were Fianna Fail supporters, while 24pc were Sinn Fein voters and 17pc were Fine Gael voters,
Mr Casey polled strongest among working-class voters over 45 years old. He also performed well among the farming community. More than a third of his voters said they backed him because of his stance on political and social issues. Another third said they voted for him because he had the ability to stand up for ordinary people.
Only six per cent of voters said President Higgins would stand up for ordinary people. However, 34pc backed him because of his record and experience, and 21pc voted for him due to his suitability to represent Ireland abroad.
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald defended her decision to field a candidate after Ms Ni Riada's disastrous result, which saw her receive less than half of the Sinn Fein vote nationally. "I take absolute responsibility for my party and my candidate. I don't believe her performance was poor," Ms McDonald said.