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‘Three horse race’ as Ireland goes to the polls to vote for next government

Issued on: 08/02/2020 – 07:28Modified: 08/02/2020 – 07:29

Ireland votes in a general election on Saturday, with Prime Minister Leo Varadkar hoping to secure a new term on the back of Brexit but voters likely to judge him more on his domestic record.

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Polls open across the country at 0700 GMT, although a small number of islands off the west coast voted on Friday to allow for rough seas that could disrupt the transport of ballots by boat.

Some 3.3 million people are eligible to vote to elect 159 members of the Dail, the lower chamber of parliament in Dublin.

Varadkars Fine Gael party has been in power since 2016 but polling suggests they are trailing centre-right rivals Fianna Fail and republicans Sinn Fein.

On Monday, Sinn Fein – the former political wing of the IRA paramilitary group – were out in front on 25 percent, with Fianna Fail on 23 percent and Fine Gael on 20 percent.

“This election is wide open,” Varadkar said at his final campaign stop in the western town of Ennis on Friday. “Its a three horse race, three parties, all within shouting distance of each other.”

A Brexit election

Varadkar launched his campaign after successfully helping to broker a deal cushioning Britains EU exit on January 31 by avoiding a hard border with British-run Northern Ireland.

An open frontier was a key requirement of the 1998 peace agreement that largely ended three decades of violence over British rule in the north, which left more than 3,000 dead.

Varadkar has warned voters that Brexit is “not done yet”, as London prepares for talks with Brussels to secure a longer-term trade deal in record time before the end of this year.

Failure to do so could present an “existential threat” to the Irish economy, he said.

But experts suggest he may have miscalculated the public mood with surveys indicating Brexit was a low concern among the electorate.

Other parties have hammered Fine Gael over failings in healthcare, housing and homelessness. Varadkar acknowledged he understood that on Friday.

“You want us over the next three years to focus on issues like health and housing with the same passion and intensity that weve focused on Brexit in the past three years,” he said.

Varadkar is Irelands first mixed race and openly gay premier who has come to represent a more socially progressive Ireland after years of dominance by the Roman Catholic church.

But despite Brexit, and landmark votes to overturn strict abortion laws and introduce same-sex marriage, some predict he could be on his way out.

“Varadkar is young, hes gay, he looks like part of the new Ireland,” Eunan OHalpin, of Trinity College Dublin, told AFP.

“Yet his personal popularity appears to have dipped, and that of his party has dipped very significantly.”>Read More – Source

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