Irish vote may end Varadkar’s spell as PM as Sinn Fein surges

DUBLIN: Irish voters look likely to dump Prime Minister Leo Varadkar from power on Saturday (Feb 8) in an election that could alter the political landscape with a surge by Sinn Fein, which has struck a chord among younger voters.

The nationalist Sinn Fein party is unlikely to enter government, with opinion polls pointing to the main opposition Fianna Fail winning most seats and forming a coalition or minority government.

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Fianna Fail's policies on the economy and post-Brexit are broadly similar to those of Varadkar's centre-right Fine Gael.

"I think there is a bit of a backlash coming (against Varadkar) from chatting to friends and colleagues," said Shane Sullivan, a 31-year-old data analyst who voted for Fianna Fail because he wanted a focus on public spending rather than tax cuts. "I think they are just a bit out of touch to be honest."

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.

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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 9per cent at local elections last year.

Analysts say it may only be able to gain a few seats and retain its position as the third largest party in parliament.

While both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael insist they will not govern with Sinn Fein, citing its IRA past and differing economic polices, such an outcome would demonstrate an appetite for change in decades-long centrist Ireland.

The IRA fought against British rule in Northern Ireland in a 30-year conflict in which some 3,600 people were killed before a 1998 peace deal. Sinn Fein's ultimate aim is to unify Ireland and British-run Northern Ireland, where it shares power.

"I went for Sinn Fein this time because I really do believe it's time for change," said Siobhan Hogan, a 40-year-old childcare worker, who cited Fine Gael plans to increase the pension age and its failure to solve a housing crisis.

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