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Irish election: Sinn Fein surges into the lead four days before vote

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald poses with her notes ahead of her speech at the 2019 Sinn Fein conference in Derry (Londonderry) in Northern Ireland on November 16, 2019.
Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald poses with her notes ahead of her speech at the 2019 Sinn Fein conference in Derry (Londonderry) in Northern Ireland on November 16, 2019. AFP - PAUL FAITH

Republican party Sinn Fein have surged into first place with just days until Ireland goes to the polls in a general election, according to a new survey.

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Sinn Fein were at 25 per cent, ahead of opposition party Fianna Fail on 23 per cent, the final Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI opinion poll said on Monday night.

Fine Gael - the party of the incumbent government lead by prime minister Leo Varadkar - was trailing on 20 per cent in third. The general election takes place on Saturday.

The poll was conducted from January 30 to February 1 among 1,200 adults at 120 locations in every constituency. Its results suggest an historic shift in sentiment.

Sinn Fein’s flagship policy is uniting the republic with the British province of Northern Ireland and dissolving a border erected in the partition of 1921.

But that could be overshadowed as the more immediate issues of housing, healthcare and homelessness have come to dominate the campaign.

Sinn Fein have also historically under-performed at previous elections compared to opinion polling.

More particularly, the all-island party is fielding just 42 candidates in the election and will not be able to form a majority government even if all are elected.

But they could still play a key role in any coalition government.

Sinn Fein in leaders debate

The latest poll forced state broadcaster RTE to invite Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald to a leaders debate on Tuesday night, because of what it said was a “notable change in the dynamic of the campaign on the ground”.

It was originally planned as a face-off between Varadkar and Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin.

McDonald said she was “pleased to accept” the invitation.

Irish governments have been dominated by the duopoly of the centre-right Fine Gael and Fianna Fail parties since its foundation.

Varadkar opened campaigning touting his success in Brexit negotiations for Britain’s departure from the European Union and appealing to the public that the process is ongoing.

But polls suggest the issue does not rank as a concern for voters.

Fianna Fail has propped up Varadkar’s minority government in parliament through a confidence and supply agreement since the 2016 election.

This potentially links them to the perceived failings of the incumbent government.

Fianna Fail also still bears the blame of leading Ireland into a ruinous recession in 2008 following the boom period dubbed the “Celtic Tiger”.

(AFP)

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