Voters head for the polls in Ireland

Voters head for the polls in Ireland

Voters head for the polls in Ireland

If those levels of support are borne out when the counting of votes begins on Sunday, it would herald a major breakthrough for Sinn Fein south of the border.

The polls opened across the country at 07:00 GMT on Saturday, with a small number of islands off the west coast that voted on Friday to allow rough seas that could disrupt the transportation of boat tickets.

Other parties have criticized Fine Gael for failures in medical care, housing and homelessness.

Recent surveys showed that both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail had stalled at the expense of Mary Lou McDonald's Sinn Fein, who had threatened to break up a duo of power between the two centrist parties since the Republic of Ireland was founded.

Varadkar, the country's first openly gay leader, became Taoiseach - prime minister - in 2017 after the resignation of his predecessor.

However, Brexit did not feature prominently in his campaign that was instead dominated by domestic issues such as spiralling rental prices, record-breaking homeless numbers, controversy over the state pension age and a struggling health service.

Both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail say they will build more houses, ease hospital overcrowding and cut waiting times for medical treatment.

Varadkar warned voters that Brexit is "not yet over", while London prepares for talks with Brussels to secure a longer-term trade agreement in record time before the end of this year.

Finance Minister Mr Murphy apologised to the Quinn family for branding Paul (21) a criminal and a smuggler earlier this week after he was beaten to death by a gang using iron bars and cudgels in a barn in Co Monaghan in 2007.

Paul Quinn was murdered in 2007
Paul Quinn was murdered in 2007

Fianna Fail's Micheal Martin said Sinn Fein was not fit to govern because "they have not cleansed themselves of their bloody past".

A pro-IRA song with the lyrics "ooh ah, up the Ra" has been played from a vehicle canvassing for Sinn Féin in the Irish general election.

Sinn Fein denied Irish republicans were involved in the killing, but the party was put on the defensive.

Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald has condemned the actions of those who planned to blow up a ferry across the Irish Sea on Brexit Day.

The surge of support took Sinn Fein by surprise after it sank to 9 percent in local elections past year.

Fine Gael led a minority government supported by a confidence-and-supply agreement with the opposition Fianna Fail for the last four years.

With three parties vying for the top spot in today's election, no single group is expected to gain enough seats to govern alone, and a coalition of some kind is nearly inevitable.

"They want a change in representation and they want a change in government".

But Sinn Fein is in a slightly different position to its two main rivals, as it may be unable to find enough like-minded left-leaning allies to form a workable government.

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