Sinn Fein challenges major parties in Irish election

DUBLIN: Sinn Fein, a hard-left party courting working-class voters and a united Ireland, is poised to beat out Ireland’s two establishment political parties for the first time as voters head to the polls in the country’s general election on Saturday.
Prime Minister Leo Varadkar’s centre-right Fine Gael party has come under fire for its failure to tackle homelessness and a health service crisis in Ireland, despite receiving praise for his role in Brexit negotiations.
Sinn Fein — once viewed as the political wing of the terrorist Irish Republican Army (IRA) — is poised to cash in on voter discontent, with polls showing the party edging ahead of both Varadkar’s Fine Gael and the opposition Fianna Fail parties.
Varadkar made a final pitch to voters via Twitter on Saturday amid reports that the arrival of a storm with strong winds and a rugby match later in the day could affect turnout.
“Whatever else you’re doing today, please make sure you get down to your local polling station to cast your vote,” the 41-year-old wrote.
“I’m asking you to vote for Fine Gael so we can keep the economy strong for the benefit of you, your family and your community,” he said.
Fine Gael led a minority government supported by a confidence-and-supply agreement with the opposition Fianna Fail for the last four years. Fianna Fail, marginally ahead of Fine Gael in opinion polls, ruled out entering such an agreement again.
Turnout was reportedly steady around midday on Friday, with President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina casting their votes at St Mary’s Hospital in Dublin. Higgins said he was glad the weather had remained sunny, despite storm warnings.
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin voted in his Cork constituency, while Green Party leader Eamon Ryan voted in Dublin.
The Greens and smaller parties are expected to be kingmakers in an election where the polls suggest the results will be very close.
Some 3.4 million voters are eligible to elect 159 members to the 33rd Dail. The 160th member of the Dail, the Ceann Comhraile (parliamentary chairman), is returned automatically.
Ireland aimed to boost turnout by holding the election for the first time. Returning officers in Dublin said turnout was close to that reported in the last election held in 2016, national broadcaster RTE reported.
Meanwhile, left-wing Sinn Fein, which has moved on from the long leadership of Gerry Adams and is run by a new generation of politicians led by Mary Lou McDonald, could win the popular vote if the vote reflects the polls. On Monday, the former political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) was polling at 25 per cent, ahead of Fianna Fail on 23 per cent and Fine Gael on 20 per cent.
But Sinn Fein, which has appealed to younger voters on the defining issue of the election — the cost and availability of housing — has put forward too few candidates to capitalise, as the groundswell of support caught the party itself off guard after it sunk to 9 per cent at local elections last year.— dpa/AFP