Irish coalition parties to defeat Sinn Fein in local election

DUBLIN (Reuters) – Ireland’s two main coalitions parties appeared set to beat Sinn Fein on Saturday in local council election, a surprise and potentially devastating blow for the left-wing’s hopes of its first win in national elections due in March.

Sinn Fein, formerly the political wing the Irish Republican Army (IRA), saw its three-year dominance in opinion polls nearly disappear as voters began to place immigration above affordable housing, a topic that Sinn Fein dominated.

On Friday, more than 2,100 candidates contested for 949 local council seats.

The results began to be tabulated Saturday. After close to a quarter had been counted, Fine Gael of Prime Minister Simon Harris and Fianna Fail of his main coalition partner each had about 24% of the votes with Sinn Fein at 11%.

David Cullinane, senior Sinn Fein legislator told Newstalk radio: “We did not win the seats that we expected to win …. We need to regroup and listen what the electorate said.”

The counting will continue Sunday along with the results of the first European Parliament elections.

As recently as October, Sinn Fein was at 35%. The idea that Sinn Fein will be in government indefinitely is going to fall apart in these elections, said Paschal Donohoe, Public Expenditure minister of the centre-right Fine Gael Party.

Unofficial results suggest that Sinn Fein will not be able to reach the 25 percent it won in the 2020 general elections, which is the highest for any party.

Sinn Fein faces a problem because Fianna Fail and Fine Gael want to continue to govern without it following the next national elections. Sinn Fein would need to win about 30% of votes in order to disrupt this plan.

Sinn Fein would suffer a blow if it failed to become the first party to enter the government. This would undermine its ambition to hold a referendum to unify with Northern Ireland, where they are already the leading party.

Harris may be tempted to call elections before March in order to capitalize on Sinn Fein’s struggles. However, ministers have said that the government will run its entire term.

Theresa Reidy is a senior lecturer at University College Cork and she said, “I think there will be some soul-searching by Sinn Fein because they won’t be credible leaders of an alternative government on the basis of these figures.”

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