In what would be a major breakthrough, Sinn Fein has surged by five points in the space of a week, and is now on 24 percent, level pegging with Fianna Fail, Ireland’s other main political party, according to the Business Post/Red C survey. Fianna Fail, led by Micheal Martin, dropped two points compared with the previous poll, with Mr Varadkar’s outfit slumping by the same amount to a dismal 21 percent.
Before Mr Varadkar called the election, Sinn Fein support stood at just 11 percent – but the campaign, which has focused on the high cost of housing and deficiencies in healthcare in the EU’s fastest growing economy, appears to be working in the left-wing party’s favour.
Speaking in Dublin on Sunday, Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said voters had an chance to disrupt the balance which has seen Fianna Fail and Fine Gael dominate Irish politics.
She added: “Fianna Fail and Fine Gael have been in power in this state for almost a century.
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“They’ve had it all their own way and they’ve had their chance.”
Sinn Fein is fielding fewer candidates than it did in the 2016 election and roughly half the number standing for Fine Gael and Fianna Fail.
Therefore, all 42 Sinn Fein candidates would likely have to be elected to the 160-seat chamber to give it a shot at emerging as the largest party, an outcome which remains highly unlikely.
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That’s not going to happen
However a significant improvement on its 22 outgoing seats would put pressure on the two traditionally dominant parties to drop their refusal to govern with Sinn Fein, both due to the party’s IRA links and its opposing economic policies – as well as boosting calls for a referendum in Northern Ireland on the subject of Irish unity.
Speaking on BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, Mr Varadkar ruled out any possibility of a coalition with Sinn Fein, saying: “That’s not going to happen”.
He added: “The likelihood is it’s actually going to be very difficult to form a government over the next couple of months.”
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The other option is a second successive minority government, this time more likely to be led by Fianna Fail but requiring another “confidence and supply” deal with Fine Gael, similar to the one which has propped up Mr Varadkar’s government.
The Good Friday Agreement signed in 1997 includes provision for a referendum, with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland – currently Julian Smith – is required to call one “if at any time it appears likely to him that a majority of those voting would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland”.
In the event that Mr Smith opts to do so, votes would need to be held in the North and the South, with majorities required in both for Irish unification to take place.
Mrs McDonald has demanded that such a vote should happen within five years.
In September a poll by former Tory Party chairman Lord Ashcroft found 46 percent of Northern Ireland’s voters backed leaving the UK, with 45 percent opposed, and the rest undecided.
Speaking on Thursday, Mr Martin said the time was not yet right, but added: “When the point is reached that we can have a referendum in a constructive atmosphere with issues about what might happen being dealt with openly and conclusively, then no party will be more energetic in campaigning for it than Fianna Fail.”
The poll of 1,000 voters was based in interviews carried out between January 25 and 30.
Red C chief executive Richard Colwell said: “The crucial campaign momentum is with Sinn Fein, and appears founded on a desire for fundamental change in the established order.
“What is apparent is that, on these numbers, it is going to be difficult for any party to form a government unless they go into coalition with each other.
“The alternative is that we could be having another election very soon.”
Multiple sources have claimed senior members of Sinn Fein, including its President, Gerry Adams, have in the past sat on the IRA Army Council, allegations the party denies.