Page last updated at 17:58 GMT, Saturday, 6 June 2009 18:58 UK

Irish government hit in polls

Fianna Fail's Shay Brennan being interviewed and conceding defeat in the Dublin South by-election
Fianna Fail's Shay Brennan being interviewed and conceding defeat in the Dublin South by-election

The Republic of Ireland's governing party has had a drop in support in the local elections and two by-elections.

It is Brian Cowen's first poll since he became PM and Fianna Fail leader.

An exit poll conducted by broadcaster RTE indicated FF will get 24% of the vote - eight points lower than in 2004 and the early results reflect this.

In the Dublin South by election, Fine Gael's George Lee, a former RTE economics editor, topped the poll with 53.4% of the first preference vote.

He said that it was "only a matter of time until there is a change in government".

His party leader, Enda Kenny, said that it had been a historic day for his party with its largest share of the vote since 1932.

Ballot with first preference vote for George Lee of Fine Gael
George Lee is set to take the seat in Dublin South

Fianna Fail's Shay Brennan, who stood unsuccessfully for the seat, said that the government was being punished by the electorate for the unpopular cost-cutting measures it was taking to tackle the economic downturn.

"I won't say disastrous there is evidently a protest vote against the government," he said.

Mr Cowen said his government would serve its full term until a general election due in 2012, despite the setbacks in votes for local councils and by-elections.

"The tide of public opinion is against us at the moment," he said on Irish television.

"But we have to continue with the work we have set out, that is to fix this recession ... and to use the mandate we have until 2012 to do so."

'Fight back'

Foreign Minister Micheal Martin said that Mr Cowen's leadership would not be challenged over the result and that they would work to tackle the impact of the downturn.

"The economic crisis is the single most important factor in these results," he said.

In Dublin Central, Independent Maureen O'Sullivan was leading the poll with 7,600 votes.

During the counting process in Dublin a woman who dropped her wedding ring into a ballot box had it returned to her.

Brian Cowen
Brian Cowen said they would work to fix the recession

The Green Party, the junior partner in the Republic's coalition government is expected to lose a number of council seats.

They are facing heavy losses in the three Dublin county councils - the four outgoing councillors in Dun Laoghaire and the two in Fingal are in serious trouble.

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Eamon Ryan said the Green Party was determined to "fight back" from what appeared to be a poor showing.

BBC Northern Ireland Dublin correspondent Shane Harrison said Fianna Fail had been bracing itself for a backlash.

"The government parties, Fianna Fail and the Greens, are also expected to poll badly in the local elections where traditionally independents do well.

"Counting in the Europeans begins on Sunday, with a lot of attention focused on whether Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald can keep her Dublin seat."

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