Until recently, a powersharing deal between the conservative Fine Gael and the left-leaning Labour Party was considered a certainty, but the late surge for Fine Gael has opened up the possibility of that rarest of beasts in Irish politics: a single-party government, perhaps propped up by non-party lawmakers.
The rise of independents, also largely leaning to the right, has been a significant feature of the election.
In all, 202 non-party candidates are running for office. Kate Bopp, running in Tipperary North, is a dark horse candidate who espouses flat taxes. She doesn’t expect to win, but says she had to run. “I kept hoping someone would emerge locally who could represent people like me, who are disillusioned, but no one did,” she says.
Not everyone is enthused by the prospect of a Fine Gael government. Fine Gael has proposed a universal and compulsory but privatized health insurance system to replace the current mix of public and private care, and is seeking to cut 30,000 public jobs, though it says it will not push for compulsory layoffs.
Graduate student Eadaoin O’Sullivan argues that the party will not represent a clear break from the past so much as an intensification of policies that will hurt vulnerable citizens. "Unlike Fianna Fáil, which promotes a watered-down republican egalitarianism, Fine Gael feels under no compunction to [support social programs]," she says.