Ireland election
Officials open a ballot box during a general election count at the Count centre in Castlebar on 27 FebruaryClodagh Kilcoyne/ Reuters

Exit polls in the Republic of Ireland's general election suggest voters have rejected the main political parties, leading to possibility of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil forming a coalition government. The shift in voting appears to have favoured independents and protest groups.

According to an exit poll commissioned by the Irish Times, Fine Gael took 26.1% of the vote – compared to 31.6% in the last general election – while longstanding rival Fianna Fáil took 22.9%. Independents and others have experienced significant gains leading to a combined 16.1% share.

Ireland general election
Official sort ballot papers during a general election count in CastlebarClodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

Labour received less than 8% support, according to the exit poll. This is a significant blow to the ruling Fine Gael-Labour coalition, which looks set to lose its majority.

Counting could last all weekend.

by Fine Gael's director of elections, Brian Hayes has said that voters were displeased by its performance while in office rather than its campaign strategy, which ultimately cost the party votes. "There was no problem with the strategy. The difficulty was the government was unpopular," he said.

Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland Martin McGuinness said it had been a successful election. He said: "My sense is that a government will be formed, I don't think there will be a second election within weeks. How stable a government, that remains to be seen."

According to bookmaker Paddy Power, there is an even chance of a second general election – a view similarly expressed by Michael Marsh, a politics professor at Trinity College Dublin. "Either we could have another election now and do away with the count, or we'll let them muddle around for a month or so and maybe they can think the unthinkable," Marsh said.

"It's hard to see any kind of government without Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil getting together," he said. Fianna Fáil would need its party members to support any coalition.

Parties across the Irish political spectrum have urged British voters to vote to stay remain in the EU amid fears that a Brexit could see a reinforced border with Northern Ireland, restricted freedom of movement and most importantly, a reduction in trade with Britain. Addressing farmers in Ahoghill, Prime Minister David Cameron warned: "When it comes to farming you know what we have today – you know about the market access – you know about what we can do, and we could be putting all that at risk which I think would be very, very damaging for Britain's farmers and for farmers here in Northern Ireland."

Addressing farmers in Ahoghill, Prime Minister David Cameron warned: "When it comes to farming you know what we have today – you know about the market access – you know about what we can do, and we could be putting all that at risk which I think would be very, very damaging for Britain's farmers and for farmers here in Northern Ireland."

Prior to the general election, the liberal-conservative, Christian democratic party Fine Gael was the largest political party in Ireland's government. Fianna Fáil – a republican centre-right conservative party – remains its closest rival.