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

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An Ipsos MRBI exit poll published by Ireland's state broadcaster RTE at 10pm shows FG, SF and FF in tie with statistically insignificant (a margin of error of 1.3 per cent) difference of 22.4, 22.3 and 22.2 per cent of the vote respectively.

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.

The last pre-election opinion polls showed Sinn Fein in a virtual dead heat with Prime Minister Leo Varadkar's Fine Gael and the opposition Fianna Fail, the two parties that have dominated Irish politics since independence.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar high fives local children while on the campaign trail in Enfield, Co.

Ballot boxes are now on their way to the count centre in Portlaoise where counting will get underway at 9am on Sunday.

He brought a box of Roses candies for count staff at his polling station in west Dublin.

Breege Quinn spoke on the phone with Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald after Conor Murphy apologised for controversial claims he made 13 years ago in the wake of Paul Quinn's murder, when he branded the South Armagh man a smuggler and criminal.

The election uses proportional representation with a single transferrable vote.

"Bring your family, your neighbours and friends and come down and use your vote - today is your day".

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The odds would still be stacked against Mary Lou McDonald leading the next government as taoiseach since Sinn Fein only fielded 42 candidates in the race for the Dail parliament's 160 seats.

Poor weather conditions caused by Storm Ciara and the Ireland rugby worldwide were among other factors that could influence voters' decisions on whether to enter the booths.

Sinn Fein's links with the IRA, which disarmed after the 1998 peace accord in Northern Ireland, became an issue late in the election.

Polls have closed in Ireland's general election and with no party securing enough seats to lead a government, confusion abounds as voters wait to see which parties will agree to do business with each other to form a coalition.

The outgoing government party, Fine Gael, has rallied despite negative polls.

Surging support for Sinn Fein, which is committed to the reunification of Ireland, threatens the country's political equilibrium even though the party is unlikely to form the next government because both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail refuse to work with it.

For either to change position on coalition partners would represent a major U-turn.

The current incumbent, Mr Varadkar, will be hoping his administration's economic record and handling of the Brexit process will convince enough voters to renew his tenure in Government Buildings in Dublin.

Siobhan Hogan, a 40-year-old childcare worker, cited Fine Gael plans to increase the pension age and its failure to solve a housing crisis as a reason to vote for Sinn Fein.

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