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Exit Polls Show A 3-Way Tie In Ireland's General Election


In Ireland, election results are neck and neck, or maybe we should say neck and neck and neck. Exit polls are showing a three-way tie among the top parties, ending days of two-party dominance in Ireland. Prime Minister Leo Varadkar's party is getting a challenge not just from the usual opposition, but as well from Irish nationalists. The center-left, Sinn Fein, is now a contender as Ireland is leaning increasingly liberal. So what could the rise of a left-wing entity mean for Europe and beyond?

Let's turn to Irish Times journalist Hugh Linehan. He's on the line from Dublin. Good morning.

HUGH LINEHAN: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So three parties tied at just about 22 percentage. I just want to listen to Prime Minister Varadkar addressing this.


PRIME MINISTER LEO VARADKAR: It seems that we have now a three-party system - three parties all getting roughly the same number of votes, roughly the same number of seats. And that is going to make forming a government quite difficult.

GREENE: OK. The prime minister is sounding pretty honest about this moment. What should we make of this? What is the significance of a left-wing party gaining power in Ireland?

LINEHAN: Well, there have always been left-wing parties in Ireland, but they've always been a little bit smaller than the two main parties. The two main parties have always been in the center, really, and they've shared power or swapped power really over almost 100 years now. So this really is quite a cataclysmic event - not only that we've moved from two big parties to three big parties, but that the new one is a very specific type of a party, as you say correctly.

It's on the left. It's proposing higher taxes for the wealthy, more investment in housing and health, reducing taxes for people who are less well-off. So that's a very significant change. And as you heard from Leo Varadkar there, also, trying to do a deal with three parties on the same level is a lot more complicated.

GREENE: Well, I just think about, I mean, this being a party, Sinn Fein, not shy about the goal of reunification, I mean, with Northern Ireland...


GREENE: ...And I think about Brexit with this whole new context in Europe. How is that all playing together and is reunification back on the table seriously now?

LINEHAN: Well, there's no doubt at all that this election was fought, as most elections are, on economic issues and specifically a more left-wing policy on state investment. But there's also no doubt at all that the first item on the agenda for Sinn Fein, more so than any other party in Ireland, is the reunification of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. And the events around Brexit have certainly made that debate a bit hotter than it has been for a long time. Sinn Fein will be pushing for a referendum in Northern Ireland to see if people there are willing to vote for the reunification of the island.

GREENE: You mentioned that much of this has focused on domestic issues and not things like Brexit necessarily. I mean, we've seen parties in other countries move towards the right, towards the populist right - I mean, I think about Hungary, France, Italy.

LINEHAN: Absolutely.

GREENE: I mean, Ireland shifting to the left - why is Ireland different? Why are we seeing a different trend here?

LINEHAN: It's a great test case for political scientists, Ireland, because it is - you're quite right. It's quite a different situation here. There is a nationalist party, but it - and there is a party which appeals to the same parts of the electorate which have shifted right in France and Hungary and who voted for Brexit. But they vote for Sinn Fein here, and because Sinn Fein has a long history of being associated - presenting itself as being associated with anti-imperialist struggles, with organizations like Nelson Mandela and the ANC in South Africa, with Latin American liberation movements, that vote, that nationalist vote is very definitely on the left.

So it is not - doesn't have any of the nativist strands which you'll see in other countries. We have a lot of immigration in Ireland over the last 20 years or so. It wasn't an issue in this election at all because of Sinn Fein's position.

GREENE: What happens next? I mean, the prime minister there, pretty honest about how hard this is going to be to form a government.

LINEHAN: I think that's a really difficult question. The - these three parties - it's important to say, actually, that Sinn Fein, they are nearly neck and neck, but Sinn Fein is a nose ahead. For the first time in the history of the state, Sinn Fein is the biggest party in the state by about 2 percentage points ahead of the other two. It won't have the most seats because it's surprised by this result, as most of us are as well, and it didn't put enough candidates forward. So it will be smaller in the Parliament, but it'll be the most popular party.

Up to now, the other parties have refused to deal with it because of its background, its connections with the IRA and the history of violence. But I think a deal is going to have to be done. We're going to have a very different type of government in Ireland.

GREENE: Hugh Linehan is a journalist with the Irish Times. Thanks so much.

LINEHAN: Thanks, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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