Irish await result in most anticipated ballot in years

The people of the Irish Republic are awaiting the outcome of the most anticipated election in decades, called early after its massive bail-out.All opinion polls before Friday’s vote indicated the main ruling party, Fianna Fail, would be thrown out of power, following the end of the economic boom.They were tipped to lose more than half their seats in the Dail (parliament).They are likely to be replaced in government by Fine Gael, either alone or in another coalition.Economic crashes normally lead to a change of government, and that is what is likely to happen in Ireland, the BBC’s Mark Simpson reports from Dublin.It will take two days to count the votes but all the indications are that Fianna Fail – in power for the past 14 years – will be heavily defeated.Fine Gael is confident of victory. Its leader, Enda Kenny, has said that if he becomes the next Irish prime minister, he will try to re-negotiate the terms of Ireland’s international bail-out.He has also said he will welcome a first visit to the Irish Republic by the Queen. The ballot was called after the ruling coalition negotiated the 85bn-euro (£72bn) EU/IMF bail-out loan package in November.With the count starting at 0900 GMT, the first official results are not expected until the afternoon, with an exit poll due shortly.Turnout is believed to have been close to 70%. Large numbers of voters in urban and rural areas turned out.Voting in one polling station in Salthill in Galway city was disrupted briefly when part of the floor in the assembly hall of St Enda’s National school began to buckle.The polling booths were moved into individual classrooms, and voting continued.While a record 233 independents, including those in smaller parties, stood, only 85 female candidates (15% of those contesting the election) sought seats in the 31st Dail.The Irish use a system of proportional representation to elect members of parliament rather than the first-past-the-post method – BBC