Ireland goes to the polls
Around 3.2 million Irish voters go to the polls today to elect 157 of the 158 members of the Dáil Éireann or lower house of parliament. The Ceann Comhairle or Speaker (Seán Barrett at the moment) is automatically re- elected unless he decides to retire.
Polling stations will be open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. local time and 551 candidates have been nominated across 17 political parties plus 135 Independents. The number of seats has been reduced from 166 in 2011 to 158 in the 2016 election and there are 40 multi-member constituencies electing between three and five Teachtaí Dála (MPs) using a proportional representation system with a single transferable vote (PR–STV). Irish citizens living abroad are not given any facility to vote in their host nation.
Around 2,133 eligible voters started voting on Thursday (25th February) on the islands off the coast of counties Donegal, Mayo and Galway.
In the last election Fine Gael took 76 seats in the then 166 seat Dáil Éireann. That was an increase of 25 seats on their 2007 showing. The Labour Party also increased their representation from 20 to 37 seats at the expense of a battered and tired Fianna Fáil which dropped 51 seats to take just 20 seats.
Other parties to gain representation were the republican nationalist and left-wing Sinn Féin with 14 seats (+10), the far-left Socialist Party with two seats (+2), the anti-austerity People Before Profit Alliance with two seats (+2) and the left-wing Workers and Unemployed Action with one seat (+1).
The most recent opinion polls put Fine Gael ahead with 30% but down on their 2011 result of 36.1%. Their coalition partners, the Labour Party are polling very badly down at seven percent from their 2011 figure of 19.4%. Meanwhile the main opposition to Fine Gael, the Fianna Fáil is up from 17.4% to 20% but still well down on their 2007 result when they took 41.6% of the vote. Sinn Féin, which had been polling as high as 21% has suffered during the campaign and is now standing on 15%, but that is still up from their 9.9% showing in 2011.
Counting of votes starts at 9 a.m. local time on Saturday 27th February.