Fine Gael has become the first government party in two decades to make gains in mid-term elections, according to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
However, while the party won extra seats in Cork and Dublin, it was expected to suffer losses in Kerry, Meath, and Roscommon. Mr Varadkar said there would be a review of the campaign.
Reflecting on the council seat numbers, he said: “It seems our vote is up slightly, maybe 1%, 1.5%, and we will gain 10 to 15 seats, which is less than we had expected or hoped for.”
Party strategists predict that Fine Gael could win up to 20 to 30 extra seats. This includes an extra six in Cork City and County, six in the four Dublin councils, three in Kildare, and two in Wicklow.
The party also looks set to increase its seats from 10 to 12 in Tipperary and to nine in Longford.
Nonetheless, the results will fall short of the 50-seat gain the party had targeted, on top of its 235-seat win in 2014.
The modest gains will also likely slow any rush for a snap general election. Furthermore, Mr Varadkar dismissed any likelihood of an immediate Cabinet reshuffle.
Given the uncertainty over Brexit, he said he was “not sure now is the time to ask ministers to read into a new brief”.
Mr Varadkar hailed the local election result gains as a first for a government party in 20 years.
He also said he expected the party to win at least three MEP seats in the European elections, despite the battle to get sitting MEP Deirdre Clune re-elected in Ireland South.
“She has a battle on her hands, absolutely no doubt about that. We’ve 29% of the vote in Ireland South it seems, so enough votes for two seats,” said Mr Varadkar.
“But just the way the vote splits and the transfers go, she’ll have a struggle. But it was the same this time five years ago.”
Asked about the surge in support for the Greens, Mr Varadkar said: “I don’t see this as a protest vote, I see this as a very big change in opinion on environmental issues and climate issues and a message from the public to us in Government that they want us to do more, more quickly and accelerate climate action.”
He did not rule out introducing higher carbon taxes in October. “That has to be part of the calculations of the budget, which is only three or four months away.”
Mr Varadkar did not rule out calling a snap general election in the autumn if numbers are altered in the Dáil.
He said several by-elections may be held if sitting TDs are elected to the European parliament.
Given the risks with Brexit as well as the mandate needed to pass October’s budget, he said there would need to be a decision on whether to hold the by-elections or to go to the country instead to seek a fresh mandate from voters.
“That’s a judgment to be made at a later date. The by-elections have to be held within a six-month period, they have to be held by the end of November.
“But there are other factors at play.
“Obviously the instability across the water [in Britain] in relation to Brexit and also whether we can get the votes to get a budget through, so that’s something that has to be considered in the next couple of weeks.”
The Fine Gael-led Government relies on the support of Fianna Fáil TDs to pass legislation and budgets through the Dáil. But the numbers are tight for the Government.
Any reduction in its combined strength with Fianna Fáil would likely reduce the ability to pass laws as well as October’s budget.