Labour leader Brendan Howlin conceded it was a “bad day” for his party.
Mr Howlin was facing calls for his resignation from party supporters online even before ballot boxes were open, given the exit poll showed the party's level of support at below 5%.
The party, which has recorded a worse performance than in 2016, when it lost 30 seats, is set to miss out on several of its key target gains, falling victim to the Sinn Féin surge.
“I had hoped to make significant advances, that is not happening, but we are in contention in eight or nine constituencies. I am hoping my comrades across the country will win those final seats and until then, we won't what number will be in the next Parliamentary Labour Party. But it has not been a great day for us,” he said.Dismissing criticism of his party's campaign, Mr Howlin said the Labour messaging was “bang on”.
He called on Sinn Féin to “step over the threshold and take the reigns of power”.
Speaking at the count centre in Wexford, Mr Howlin conceded it has been “a bad day for Labour.”
While Mr Howlin is set to return to the Dáil, he was speaking ahead of the loss of senior figures like Joan Burton and Jan O'Sullivan who polled poorly. Tallies indicated he has secured about 12% of the vote and will be elected on the second or third count.
Speaking to reporters, Mr Howlin said Sinn Féin is the real winner of the election and it must engage with the other parties to form a Government.
However, he indicated Labour would not feature as part of this government after a “disappointing day”.
“The numbers won’t add up for that. We have to see how many seats the Labour Party has. It’s about what a government does, not who is in it.
The Wexford TD says there is a “responsibility on Sinn Féin to step over the threshold and take the reigns of power and deliver on those promises to the electorate”.
Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael must now decide if we are going to have instability for a long time or if we are going to have a government, he said. “The people have spoken very decisively.”
He said Labour’s message was “bang on” but there was a “movement for something different”.
The results of the first count in Wexford are expected to be announced at about 5pm with Sinn Féin’s Johnny Mythen expected to be returned after comfortably surpassing the quota.
One of the big hopes for Labour was Senator Kevin Humphreys in Dublin Bay South, but from early on, he was conceding the swing to Sinn Féin made it impossible for him to return.
Based on a final tally in Dublin Bay South, the seats are widely predicted to go to Eamon Ryan of the Greens, Chris Andrews of Sinn Féin, Eoghan Murphy of Fine Gael and, most probably, Jim O'Callaghan of Fianna Fáil, with sitting Fine Gael TD Kate O'Connell and Mr Humphreys losing out.