Ireland election: Voting begins to elect new parliament

Opinion surveys show incumbent pro-austerity coalition could be voted out of power amid growing anger over taxes.

    Voting was under way in Ireland in general elections that could see it become the latest eurozone country to face political instability as anger against hardship and austerity erodes support for traditional parties.

    Polls opened at 07:00 GMT on Friday in schools, sports clubs and church buildings transformed for the day into election centres.

    The first indications of results are expected as counting gets under way on Saturday morning, a process likely to continue into Sunday.

    Ireland elections: Crucial vote for the economy

    Opinion surveys indicated the coalition led by Prime Minister Enda Kenny's Fine Gael may struggle to form a majority for a second term because of a potential collapse in support for junior partners Labour, whose centre-left base has been alienated by austerity cuts.

    Under the coalition, Ireland became the eurozone's champion of economic growth after exiting in 2013 a bailout programme brought in following a deep financial crisis.

    But there is anger over tax increases and cuts to services, with many voters pointing to increased homelessness and poverty and asking: "What recovery?"

    Unlike in other eurozone countries, where opposition to austerity coalesced around insurgent parties such as Spain's Podemos or Syriza in Greece, the vote in Ireland has splintered.

    Those expected to increase their numbers in Dail Eireann, the lower house of parliament, are a group of independent politicians not affiliated to parties, a new group the Anti-Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit, and left-wing republican party Sinn Fein.

    "I think after the election, what we will see is potentially a hung Dail," Richard Colwell, head of Red C polling, told AFP news agency.

    "It's looking increasingly unlikely that Fine Gael and Labour are going to be able to form a government on their own."

    Possible post-election scenarios include Kenny cobbling together a coalition with a mix of independents and small parties, a re-run of the election, or a historic "grand coalition" between his Fine Gael party and old rivals Fianna Fail - bitter adversaries since Ireland's 1920s civil war.

    Support for Fianna Fail, the party most associated with Ireland's economic crash, has recovered slightly since it was punished at the last poll in 2011, though Kenny has rejected the idea of doing a deal with its leader Micheal Martin.



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