The election has transformed the Irish political landscape. Fianna Fáil, the dominant force in Irish politics since independence in 1921, has lost a record number of seats.
Widely blamed for the economic collapse and the painful measures taken to address the financial crisis, it will now have to rebuild from opposition. Micheál Martin, the party leader, hinted on Sunday that he would examine the possibility of organising in Northern Ireland as a way to revive the party brand.
Sinn Féin, the only party that competes in elections on both sides of the Irish border, had its best election with Gerry Adams, the party president, topping the poll in Louth, a border constituency.
The Green party was wiped out, with none of its six MPs returned, including two ministers. The Greens suffered from being seen to have propped up an unpopular government.
Enda Kenny, Fine Gael leader, said on Sunday that Ireland needed “stable and strong government”, his comments were seen as a sign that he favours a coalition with Labour rather than a minority administration with independents.
Not everyone in Labour is happy at the idea of a coalition with the centre-right Fine Gael. The two parties entered the election with separate manifestos – and fought each other as much as they fought the outgoing Fianna Fáil government. Under its party rules, Labour will have to approve at a national convention of its members any programme for government with Fine Gael.
One councillor voiced the misgivings felt by many grassroots members, who believe Labour would be better off fighting for leftwing policies in opposition. Cian O’Callaghan said on Sunday that a Fine Gael-Labour coalition “would have an absolute stranglehold over the Dáil and would be damaging for Irish democracy”.
He said: “The two largest parties in Ireland for the first time ever are now on either side of the political divide. In line with the European norm, our largest party is now Christian Democratic and our second-largest party is Social Democratic. Civil war politics is now finished.”
Linda O’Shea Farron, a lawyer who worked as an adviser to a previous coalition led by Fine Gael, said it should not be too difficult to forge a common programme for government.
Even though the parties had been out of power for 14 years, they had a wealth of experience of handling coalitions, she said. A Fine Gael coalition with Labour would have a comfortable majority of up to 30 seats.