Irish voters reward Sinn Fein, punish government parties
By Honor Mahony
Irish voters on Friday (23 May) gave a strong signal to the government that they have tired of austerity, reaching out to alternative parties in the local elections and set to do the same for the EU vote.
According to an exit poll by state broadcaster RTE on Saturday morning, the governing centre-right Fine Gael party is set to take 22 percent of the vote, down seven percentage points from the last EU vote in 2009.
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Junior coalition partner Labour, seen as abandoning its party principles to pursue a budget-cutting path while in government since 2011, took a major hit. It is down 8 points from five years ago to 6 percent.
"After six years of this people have run out of patience," said Pat Rabbitte, a labour politician and communications minister, reports the Irish Times. "They are sending a message to the government."
Ireland took an international bailout package in 2010 after the country's property bubble burst. It exited the bailout at the end of last year but the toll on the country was and remains high with slashed public services and high unemployment.
Opposition Fianna Fail, which led the country into the crisis and was routed in the 2011 general election, is on 22 percent (down 2 points from 2009).
The biggest winners of the day were those running on an independent ticket – they have scooped around a quarter of the vote.
Sinn Fein, which sits with the leftist GUE group in the European Parliament, is set to elect three of the country's 11 seats, with 17 percent of the vote.
The left-wing party, which campaigned on an anti-austerity ticket, and the Green party (6%) are the only two parties to have made gains since 2009.
Sinn Fein, which is also polling well in the local elections, is seen not only to have benefitted from austerity-fatigue but from running a tight political ship.
One MEP likely to return to the parliament is Brian Crowley, a long-time MEP for Fianna Fail (sitting with the Liberals). Newbies are set to include Luke 'Ming' Flanagan, an independent who ran on an anti-EU ticket, and Sinn Fein's Lynn Boylan who is the talk of the political classes for emerging out of nowhere.
Counting of the Irish votes will begin on Sunday morning with the final results to be announced that evening, along with official results from the rest of the member states.