As votes continued to be counted Sunday, the results of Friday’s Irish general election grew bleaker for the ruling Fine Gael-Labour coalition. Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny said Sunday that his Fine Gael party would not return to power in a coalition with Labour after waning support for both parties meant that they could not form a majority. Counting will continue until at least the end of Monday, as both Kenny's Fine Gael and its rival Fianna Faíl party look toward a possible coalition.
Preliminary results put votes for Fine Gael at 38 percent, Fianna Faíl at 36 percent, followed by opposition party Sinn Fein with 18 percent and Labour with just 6 percent, according to the BBC.
“As taoiseach I have a duty and responsibility to see how best we might be able to put together a government,” Kenny said, the BBC reported, adding, “I'd like to think that it could be possible, given the final results, to be able to put a government together that could work through the many challenges we have.”
The runup to Friday’s elections focused mainly on economic issues and recovery. Following a continent-wide recession in 2008, Ireland was one of many eurozone countries that accepted a cash bailout from European lenders in exchange for austerity measures such as budget cuts, higher taxes and reduced social spending.
Kenny’s government, in coalition with the left-wing Labour party, oversaw most of the nation’s economic recovery, and in 2013 Ireland became the first European nation to pay back its loans to the so-called troika of lenders – the European Commission with the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. By headline indicators such as GDP, Ireland is recovering remarkably well, seeing 7 percent growth in 2015, making it the fastest-growing economy in Europe.
Many citizens have said they have not personally experienced that recovery, however, and struggle to find jobs, pay taxes and support their families. Homelessness in Dublin reached a record high in January, and recent graduates remain unemployed while residents throughout the nation rail against an unpopular water tax.
Dissatisfaction with the results of the ruling party’s recovery helped drive support for Independent and anti-austerity parties, such as Sinn Fein, led by Gerry Adams. Sinn Fein, a left-wing Irish nationalist party known for its connections to the Irish Republican Army (IRA), made gains in Friday’s elections, winning 18 percent of the vote according to the BBC, up eight percentage points from their results in 2011.
While Sinn Fein has long been one of the driving political forces in Northern Irish politics, the party has only recently begun to draw support in the Republic of Ireland by focusing its message on economic issues in particular. Leaders from the party have promised to raise pensions and to get rid of the water tax and have spoken out on issues concerning income equality.
Fears concerning a hung Parliament could cause financial uncertainty in the country, however, as political unrest often deters potential foreign investors. Representatives from Fine Gael have said they would consider forming a coalition with their main rival and former Civil War adversary Fianna Faíl, though the coalition will not form overnight and could leave Ireland with a hung parliament in the meantime.
Spain saw a similar situation after a general election in December 2015 returned the most fragmented results in the nation’s recent history. Two months later, elected officials have still failed to form a government as talks between parties continue to break down.