HomeWorldIreland heads to the polls to vote in local and European elections

Ireland heads to the polls to vote in local and European elections


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Voters in Ireland are going to the polls in local and European elections that have been dominated by a housing shortage and a backlash against immigrants and refugees.

A record number of far-right candidates are on the ballot for local councils and the European parliament but it is unclear if many will get elected and join an expected far-right surge across Europe.

Parties from the ruling coalition have sought to neuter the threat by hardening rhetoric and measures against migrants and asylum seekers. The far-right has also dented its prospects with a proliferation of candidates that will split their vote.

Polling stations open at 7am and will close at 10pm. Ireland will send 14 MEPs to Europe, accounting for 2% of the 720-seat chamber. Voters will also fill 949 city and county council seats in 31 local government authorities and choose a mayor for Limerick.

Ireland’s economy is at near full employment and has returned to growth in the first three months of this year, but a severe shortage of affordable houses and apartments to rent and buy has increased homelessness and social problems, souring the public mood.

The crisis stems from planning and construction bottlenecks and a rising population but agitators have sought to blame it on Ukrainian and other refugees who have filled asylum centres and hotels and pitched tents in central Dublin. There have been demonstrations, arson attacks and a riot.

Dozens of anti-immigrant candidates are running as independents or as members of micro parties with no elected representatives. Some promise to “push back against the EU migration pact” and to “preserve Irish culture”. Others warn, without evidence, of a plot to replace Irish people with a new “plantation”.

With polls showing that almost two-thirds of voters want tougher controls on immigration, the centre-right government has reduced welfare support, expanded enforcement and removed encampments to deter fresh arrivals.

That appears to have helped stabilise support for the Greens and Fianna Fáil and to have bolstered Fine Gael, the third party in the coalition led by the taoiseach, Simon Harris.

According to polls, voter frustration over migration has hit Sinn Féin, the main opposition party, even though it is not in power. Its left-wing populist critique of the government propelled it to 33% support in 2022 but perceived softness on migration has seen that slump to 22%, putting a question mark over its hopes of leading the next government after a general election due by March next year.

However Sinn Féin’s calamitous election in 2019, when it lost half its councillors and won just one European seat, mean it is fighting this election from such a low base the party is almost certain to gain seats. “We’re contesting every local electoral area,” said its leader, Mary Lou McDonald. “I want us to be the largest party full stop.”

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