Uncertainty in Ireland as no clear winner emerges in election

Uncertainty over the make-up of the next government was dominant in Ireland as the general election count continued Sunday.

With 109 seats out of 158 filled, governing Fine Gael was on course to be slightly ahead of opposition Fianna Fail, despite suffering major losses.

Speculation shifted from possible coalitions to talk of fresh elections, as a grand coalition between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail looked unlikely.

"We may all be back here again very shortly," outgoing finance minister Michael Noonan said, speaking inside an election count centre Sunday morning.

"We advised all of our candidates to stay on election footing," Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said after being re-elected.

"Sinn Fein will not prop up a centre-right government with Fine Gael or Fianna Fail," said Sinn Fein’s Eoin O’Broin, who was elected in the constituency of Dublin Mid-West.

Fianna Fail front-bench spokesman Timmy Dooley said the party's voters would be "betrayed" if it entered into coalition with Fine Gael.

He indicated that the party might negotiate with independents and smaller parties. Such "negotiations would be far more difficult because you are dealing with disparate groupings but it would be far more fruitful in the long run," the newly-elected representative for Clare in the West of Ireland said.

Independents and smaller parties have had a very good election with 29 per cent of the vote so far.

Fine Gael is on 25.5 per cent, Fianna Fail is at 24.3 per cent and republican Sinn Fein has 13.8 per cent of the vote.

Stable administration was "imperative", outgoing Taoiseach, or prime minister, Enda Kenny said late Saturday, after confirming that his centre-right Fine Gael and Labour would not be returning to government.

He refused to talk about whether his party would enter into a coalition with Fianna Fail, saying he would wait until all of the results were in and he would have to talk to his junior coalition party.

Labour was punished severely in the polls, dropping to 6.6 per cent from 19.4 in the 2011 election.

Under Ireland's electoral system of proportional representation, in which voters rank candidates by preference, counts can take a long time. With several recounts requested, final official results will not be available until Monday.

Negotiations about the next government are not expected to start until then.

Last update: Sun, 28/02/2016 - 18:00

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