In the Spotlight: Irish Parliamentary Election in Three Minutes

The parliamentary elections in Ireland have come to an end. In case you have been busy and are looking for a simple summary of the results and their consequences without needing to read a lengthy analysis, you’re in luck. Europe Elects condensed all the relevant bits into a package of 150 words:

The Irish election on Saturday 8th February proved to be a historic yet indecisive result. The governing Fine Gael (EPP) dropped 14 seats from its 2016 result to be left in third place with 35 seats out of the 160 in the parliament. Ahead of them were Fianna Fáil (RE) whom—despite losing 6 seats—will be the largest party in the new national parliament with 38 seats. This is just ahead of Sinn Féin (GUE/NGL), which recorded its best ever result with 37 out of 160 seats in the national parliament and won the highest share of the popular vote. 

It is the first time any party besides FF or FG has won the popular vote and the first time the two parties fail to command a majority of seats. With none of the three main parties anywhere near the 80 seats needed to form a government, they will need to work with each other and the smaller parties to form a coalition.


If you have slightly more time and interest, here’s the same in 350 words:

The Irish election on Saturday 8th February shattered the two-party system that has existed in the country since its independence in 1922. The left-wing Sinn Féin (GUE/NGL) surged into first place with 24.5% of the vote and 37 seats in a parliament of 160 MPs. Centrist Fianna Fáil (RE) won 38 seats—one more than Sinn Féin—despite coming only second in the popular vote. The ruling centre-right Fine Gael (EPP), headed by the Taoiseach (head of government) Leo Varadkar, won 35 seats and came third.

This result will surprise many who before the campaign had predicted a head to head race between FG’s Varadkar and the FF leader Micheál Martin. Sinn Féin’s poor performance in polls throughout 2019 turned around during the campaign, as they rose from as low as 11% in November 2019 to as high as 25% a week before the election. Meanwhile both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil lost support and seats compared to 2016, with Fine Gael recording their lowest share of the vote since 1944.

Europe Elects’ running polling average of Ireland leading up to the election

Among the smaller parties, the Green Party (G/EFA) won an additional 10 seats to leave them with 12 MPs, tapping into the ‘green wave’ seen across the continental Europe, to record their best result ever. Centre-left Labour (S&D) lost a single seat to come back with 6, while the newer centre-left Social Democrats (S&D) also won 6 seats. Left-wing Solidarity-People Before Profit (GUE/NGL) returned with 5 MPs while independents and others gathered 21 seats.

Once the speaker is excluded, 80 seats are needed for a majority. Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald originally stated her preference for a left-wing coalition, but it soon became clear that only a government that included two of the three big parties would be able to form a stable coalition. With both Martin and Varadkar refusing to work with Sinn Féin, it may be a struggle for McDonald to turn her party’s result into influence. The only option available without Sinn Féin is for Ireland’s two oldest political rivals, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, to form a grand coalition. We may have to wait months to see whether Ireland will get an unprecedented coalition or whether Irish voters will be asked to go back to the polls.

Mathew Nicolson contributed to the piece.

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