Exit polls in the Republic of Ireland’s general election suggest the existing Fine Gael-Labour coalition will not be returned.
The polls indicate that Fine Gael will remain the largest party, but with only a narrow lead over the main opposition, Fianna Fáil.
Polls show Sinn Féin, smaller parties and Independents are also doing well.
Independent candidate Shane Ross was the first person to be elected to the Dáil (Irish parliament).
He was elected in Dublin Rathdown on the second count.
Eoin Ó Broin was the first Sinn Féin candidate to be elected, after being returned on the first count in Dublin Mid-West.
Mr O’Broin is a former party councillor in Belfast.
Fine Gael’s Frances Fitzgerald, the outgoing justice minister, has also been elected in Dublin Mid-West.
Fianna Fáil have also had their first TD elected, Sean Fleming in Laois.
Many believe the expected result could make negotiations on forming a new government extremely difficult.
The final outcome of many seats will depend on transfers in later counts.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin described the election as an “extraordinary vote” and said he was “very pleased”.
“A lot will depend on the destination of the last seats in many constituencies, it’s a bit too early to be definitive, but it’s clear we’re going to have a good day,” he said.
Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary-Lou McDonald said that she expects the party will be putting leader Gerry Adams forward to be the next Taoiseach (Irish prime minister).
“It’s early in the day but I think if this election demonstrates anything, it is that there is now, or should be, no sense from Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil that they have some divine right to govern – they don’t,” she said.
Her party colleague Martin McGuinness, Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister, said it had been a hugely successful election for Sinn Féin.
“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,” he said.
Fine Gael’s Frances Fitzgerald said it was a “difficult day” for her party but defended the record of Taoiseach (prime minister) Enda Kenny.
“We took very difficult decisions, and the taoiseach took over at a difficult time,” she said.
“We have had to take tough decisions and that is reflected on the doorsteps.
“He has done an amazing job. I expect when we come back, the big job is to form stable government.
“I expect that’s what the taoiseach will be trying to do on 10 March.”
The general secretary of the Labour Party, Brian McDowell, said the poll results had made it a “very disappointing” day for the party.
“The people have spoken, we’ll have to reflect early next week, but it does look like Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are the only likely combination at this stage,” he added.
Both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil had indicated that they would not go into coalition with each other.
However, pressure is expected to mount on them to come to some form of arrangement that may take several weeks to arrive at.
An exit poll commissioned by the Irish Times suggested Fine Gael will remain the largest party with 26%, with Fianna Fáil close behind on 23%.
A poll from Irish broadcaster RTÉ on Saturday morning indicated broadly similar results.
If borne out by the count, the vote shares would result in a hung Dáil (parliament), but with Fine Gael still taking the largest number of seats.
Over three million people were entitled to vote in Friday’s poll, that will return 157 members of parliament, known as TDs. The ceann comhairle (speaker) is automatically returned.
The campaign was fought mainly over economic issues, with the government parties asking voters for their support to keep the recovery going at a time when international storm clouds are gathering.
But the opposition parties countered that not everyone, especially outside of middle-class Dublin, is yet benefiting from the up-turn.
The Republic of Ireland has had the biggest growing economy in the eurozone for the last two years.
TDs will be elected according to the single transferable vote (STV) system, in which candidates have to reach a quota, before their surplus votes are distributed to others.