Irish election diary: The counting begins

Image caption, Enda Kenny will seek to build relationships with some of the world's most influential people

Counting is ongoing at centres across the Republic of Ireland as the final stage of the Irish election continues. Our Ireland correspondent Mark Simpson has been covering the election with a diary of the campaign.

Sunday 27 February

  • Taoiseach-in-waiting Enda Kenny will soon start receiving telephone calls from world leaders congratulating him on his election victory - but some may come to see him in person.
  • Dublin is buzzing with speculation about a visit to Ireland by US president Barack Obama at the end of May.
  • The possible trip is likely to be discussed next month when Mr Kenny goes to Washington for the annual St Patrick's Day celebrations at the White House.
  • President Obama has distant Irish roots in the village of Moneygall in Co Offaly and an Irish band has already recorded a song entitled 'There is no-one as Irish as Barack Obama'.
  • If the President does go to Ireland, it may not be the only high-profile visit to Dublin this year.
  • The Queen may visit the Irish Republic for the first time, in a sign of how Anglo-Irish relations have been transformed by the peace process. It will also demonstrate how vital the UK trade links are to Ireland's battered economy.
  • Enda Kenny is set for a hectic first six months in office. He may be short of money, but he is likely to have plenty of publicity.

Saturday 26 February

  • A hand-written sign on a lamp-post outside Dublin's Trinity College last night gave a whole new meaning to the phrase opinion 'pole'. A large black marker was used to scrawl, in English and Irish, the plea 'from the bottom of my heart I beg you, please don't vote for Enda Kenny'.
  • The most likely suspect was a desperate Fianna Fail supporter, hoping for a political miracle.
  • It appears the party has no chance of extending its 14 years in power.
  • Opinion polls have consistently indicated that it will slip from first to third place in the election in a humiliating defeat. However, Fianna Fail campaigners went to bed last night clinging to one last hope - that the pollsters had got it wrong.
  • The Fianna Fail brand has become toxic as a result of Ireland's slide from boom to bust to bail-out, so perhaps people were reluctant to admit to pollsters that they were voting for the party. If this is true, Fianna Fail could maybe salvage second place? They could turn a thumping defeat into a partial victory? If nothing else, it was something for their exhausted canvassers to dream about.

Friday 25 February

  • It is all over bar the voting, but the party leader who wins the election will not have much time to recover. The next Taoiseach will have a frenetic first month with the opening of the new Irish parliament, a meeting of the Eurozone leaders in Brussels, followed by a trip to Washington and then a European summit. That is all before the end of March.
  • The visit to the United States will be for St Patrick's Day on 17 March, when President Obama traditionally hosts a reception, as Presidents Bush and Clinton used to do.
  • In the early summer, the Queen is expected to visit Ireland, and the Taoiseach will of course be involved in that historic occasion. In between all of the above, he will have to work out how to rescue the stricken Irish economy.
  • As the election campaign wound down on Thursday night, one of the party leaders was spotted deep in conversation with his closest colleagues in a popular Italian restaurant. Was it a secret start to strategy meetings about a new coalition government? No, apparently he just loves pasta.

Thursday 24 February

  • In spite of being mobbed like a pop star in Monaghan town centre last night, it is clear that Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny is not yet a household name in Ireland. As he held an open-air rally for his flag-waving supporters, one passer-by turned to his friend and said: "Look over there - it's Enda Kennedy".
  • When it comes to charisma, Enda is no Kennedy. But the Irish people are warming to him and like America's most famous political family, elected office has passed through the generations in the Kennys. Enda's father, Henry, was a member of the Irish parliament before his death in 1975.
  • It looks as if Kenny Jnr will be in charge of Ireland soon. In the final opinion poll, the level of support for Fine Gael was 40% - twice as high as their closest rivals, Labour.
  • The question is, what share of the vote will the party need to gain an overall majority of seats? It's complicated.
  • Elections expert Dr Theresa Reidy from University College Cork says 43-44% of the first-preference votes is the minimum required for an outright majority of seats, but under Ireland's proportional representation system, much depends on the subsequent vote transfers.
  • As for Dr Reidy's prediction? She reckons Fine Gael will win 75 seats, eight short of the 83 needed for an overall majority. Now, don't all rush to the bookmakers...

Wednesday 23 February

  • Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny may be flying high in the opinion polls and heading for the top job in Ireland, but he will not be using a helicopter for the long trip from his native Mayo back to Dublin after the votes are counted at the weekend.
  • The 150-mile trek, from the west coast of Ireland to the east coast, has more twists and turns than the plot of Coronation Street. It will take a good three and a half hours by road but the Taoiseach-in-waiting does not want to be seen in a flashy helicopter at a time of such economic austerity.
  • Money, money, money - those were the three issues which dominated the final TV leaders' debate of the election campaign last night. In a 90-minute debate, it was 77 minutes before any other subject was mentioned.
  • Among the topics ignored were education, law and order, the environment, transport, abortion, the Catholic Church child abuse scandal, foreign policy and the Northern Ireland peace process.
  • There was also no mention of a subject close to the heart of many politicians and pundits - whether or not the millions of votes from Friday's election will all be counted before kick-off in the Ireland versus Scotland rugby match at 1500 GMT on Sunday.

Tuesday 22 February

  • The Republic of Ireland's slide from boom to bust has shaken the faith of some people in the country's 90-year-old political system. On the campaign trail, there is not just disillusionment with the outgoing government, but with politicians in general.
  • The placard on a shop in Donegal in north-west Ireland - "Politicians and canvassers not allowed on these premises" - is not the only angry sign. Some houses have put up similar 'keep-away' posters. The turn-out in Donegal on Friday will be interesting.
  • In Waterford in south-east Ireland, one newspaper has accused the local Fianna Fail candidate Brendan Kenneally of being publicity-shy. This is surely a world first.
  • Columnist Dermot Keyes in the Munster Express claimed Kenneally's campaign had been understated and called for "a visit to all local media outlets and a bit of straight talking".
  • There will be non-stop talking at tonight's final live TV debate between the three main party leaders. There will also be plenty of nerves. So far in the campaign, there have been no big gaffes or major stumbles. The final potential banana-skin awaits.

Monday 21 February

  • One of the rising stars of Irish politics, Dr Leo Varadkar, is causing a few double-takes around Dublin with his life-size campaign posters.
  • The 32-year-old Fine Gael politician is tipped for a ministerial role if his party wins Friday's election. So why the need to produce the cardboard cut-outs of himself?
  • "It means I can do the one thing most politicians can't do - be in two places at once," said Dr Varadkar.
  • He showed off his posters at a Fine Gael rally at Dublin's Aviva stadium on Sunday. Two Irish rugby greats, Hugo MacNeill and Ollie Campbell, were among the large crowd of Fine Gael supporters.
  • Around 1,000 people turned up, but it was not easy to tell exactly how many were real and how many were cardboard cut-outs.
  • Dr Varadkar's face may be well known in Dublin, but it did not stop one observer looking at his many faces and saying "is that Ed Miliband?"

Sunday 20 February

  • If Sinn Fein ever achieve their goal of having ministers in power on both sides of the Irish border, it could involve two sisters.
  • While Catriona Ruane is Northern Ireland's Education Minister, her younger sister Therese Ruane is running in County Mayo for a seat in the Irish Parliament.
  • The Sinn Fein sisters have been spotted side-by-side in Castlebar on the election trail. Their political dream is to be face-to-face at a North-South ministerial council meeting one day.
  • However, Therese faces an uphill battle to get elected, as she is one of two Sinn Fein candidates contesting the same five-seat constituency as Taoiseach-in-waiting Enda Kenny. He will be hoping his Fine Gael party wins three - or even four - of the seats on offer.
  • A quick read of today's newspaper opinion polls will help Mr Kenny enjoy his Sunday lunch.

Saturday 19 February

  • The closer it gets to polling day, the more unparliamentary the language is becoming.
  • The Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore has said Ireland would be "screwed" by Fine Gael's fiscal measures.
  • Fine Gael's Simon Coveney has branded a Fianna Fail rival a "spoofer".
  • Independent candidate Ann Sweeney has produced a leaflet which includes a very frank view of Ireland's bail-out, using lots of other words which begin with 'b'.
Image caption, Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore has said Ireland would be "screwed" by Fine Gael's fiscal measures.
  • However, nothing has come close to the infamous outburst in the last Irish Parliament when the Green Party's Paul Gogarty twice used the f-word in a stream of abuse aimed at a Labour backbencher.
  • Although he immediately withdrew the comment and apologised, the remark went global on Youtube, and he became known as the Green who saw red and turned the air blue.
  • Mr Gogarty is running again in the Dublin Mid West constituency.
  • His election campaign leaflet lists his political talents, including the fact that "I have always spoken my mind". No-one could argue with that.

Friday 18 February

  • An occupational hazard for TV reporters covering elections is publicity-seeking politicians creeping up on you when you are not looking.
  • The Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams and party colleague Arthur Morgan could not stop smiling when they saw the BBC cameras in Dundalk.
Image caption, The Sinn Fein president spots an opportunity to appear before the cameras
  • The point I was trying to make, before being caught in a Sinn Fein sandwich, was that even though Gerry Adams may top the poll in County Louth, it is the overall performance of his party that matters most.
  • In the last Irish election in 2007, Sinn Fein won only four of the 166 seats in the Dublin parliament. They are expected to do better in next week's poll, but how much better?
  • Dr Theresa Reidy, an elections expert based at University College Cork, is predicting a Sinn Fein surge. "They could pick up maybe 12, and on an excellent day, I think 14 is about the outside of what they can take," she says. Watch out for a lot more grinning Sinn Fein candidates, and beards, on TV.

Thursday 17 February

  • One of the most striking aspects of the Irish election campaign is the attempt to hide the name of one of the main parties, Fianna Fail, by some of the party's own candidates. Take a look at the photograph above and spot the party name. You may need a magnifying glass. It is buried in small type in the bottom right-hand corner.
Image caption, Fianna Fail candidates are hoping to succeed because of personal standing
  • Fianna Fail was in charge when the Irish economy went bust, and the party brand has been badly tarnished. In the last election it won 42% of the vote; the latest poll suggests support is down to 12%. It is quite a crash.
  • Candidates are hoping their personal standing over-rides their party's standing. But Fianna Fail have conceded that they are facing losses at the polls and are not even running enough candidates to win an overall majority.
  • What is the difference between Fianna Fail and their election rivals Fine Gael? The best answer of the campaign so far came from RTE broadcaster Pat Kenny: "Just watch the Michael Collins movie."

Wednesday 16 February

  • A record number of independents are contesting the Irish election, and one candidate in Co Louth is causing a stink with his campaign posters.
  • The election slogan of Dundalk businessman Fred Matthews is "No More Bull****". The slogan is plastered over the Louth countryside and is also carried on his website, but without any clear explanation. Presumably, it is something to do with his agriculture policy.
Image caption, Independent businessman Fred Matthews has an attention-grabbing slogan in Co Louth
  • The number of independents - 202 - is more than a third of the total number of candidates. This suggests a growing disenchantment with the political establishment, since Ireland's economy went from boom to bust. However, the latest opinion poll suggests the next government will be led by one of the established parties, Fine Gael.
  • The state of the parties, according to the Irish Independent poll, is: Fine Gael 38%, Labour 23%, Independents 16%, Fianna Fail 12%, Sinn Fein 10%, Greens 1%.
  • The poll is good news for Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny, who took time out of the campaign to fly to Berlin on Monday to discuss Ireland's economic prospects with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. They later shook hands and posed for the cameras.
  • Angela and Enda are old friends, with their parties both being members of the centre-right European People's Party (EPP). Leaders sit in alphabetical order at EPP meetings and, with their surnames being close to each other, Kenny and Merkel have got to know each other well over the years. They could soon be meeting at top-level European summits. But if Germany succeeds in forcing Ireland to raise its low corporation tax rate, it could be the "enda of a beautiful relationship".

Tuesday 15 February

  • One of the most bizarre soundbites of the election campaign has led to an apology from Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin. The former Irish foreign minister adopted a Chinese accent to try to make a political point. Mr Martin recalled a trade mission to China and said: "Whenever I met Chinese ministers or officials… they kept on saying to me, [adopts foreign-sounding accent] you Irish, very good at software."
Image caption, The Sinn Fein president (R) was "arguably the winner of the debate"
  • Later, he admitted he had made a comment "in a manner which I shouldn't have" and added: "If anyone was in any way offended I, of course, apologise."
  • The first live TV debate involving the five party leaders was hot and heavy inside the RTE studio on Monday night, but not outside. Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams came out of the studio smiling and handed a small bunch of Valentine's Day flowers to a waiting journalist.
  • Mr Adams was arguably the winner of the debate, but Sinn Fein is unlikely to win enough seats to be part of the next government. Rather than being in the next cabinet, he will only be able to wield flower power.

Monday 14 February

  • There is no escape from the Irish election, even at an international rugby match in Dublin. Fine Gael - the party expected to top the poll in next week's election - sent an army of young volunteers to tackle fans arriving at Sunday's Ireland-France Six Nations game. It all went well, apart from some wasted canvassing of inebriated Frenchmen who faked Irish accents and pretended to be interested in the election.
Image caption, Rugby fans were tackled by an army of young canvassers
  • Not dropping the ball will be the name of the game in tonight's first five-way TV election debate involving the party leaders. Much attention will focus on Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams who has previously mishandled some economic questions.
  • It seems some Irish people have had enough of the election already. One south Dublin house has pinned a sign to its front door: "No canvassers here, for health and safety reasons. My health - your safety."

Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen called early elections more than a year before his term was due to expire because of a political crisis triggered by last November's bail-out by the IMF and EU worth 85bn euros ($113bn; £72bn).

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