Gerry Adams has insisted Sinn Fein met its own expectations in the election, dismissing claims that he failed to lead his party to bigger targeted gains.
Set to return to the Dail with 20-plus seats, the veteran republican claimed the poll demonstrated a sea change in politics in the Republic.
“The message out there – and this is an ongoing process, this is very much a work in progress – is that people want change,” he said.
“The big conservative parties that ran this place for a very long time can’t summon between them any more than 50% of the vote.
“The left parties, the progressive parties, the independents, the Sinn Fein party, all have garnered the rest of all of that.”
Despite its success Sinn Fein looked set to suffer a high-profile casualty in Donegal where Padraig MacLochlainn appeared to have fallen short in his backyard of Inishowen and across the wider redrawn constituency.
In Kerry the veteran Martin Ferris was struggling in another recast constituency dominated by independent brothers Michael and Danny Healy Rae.
Mr Adams said his party did as well “as well as we could” as he took the second Dail seat for Louth and looked set to bring running mate Imelda Munster with him thanks to canny vote management.
She would be the first woman elected to the Dail for the constituency.
“You always want better, that’s for certain,” Mr Adams said.
“But our own reckoning in this was that we were going to come out, more or less, where we are going to come out.
“I never answered one question about opinion polls, some of the commentators are comparing our turnout with their opinion polls. The only real opinion poll is on the day.”
The steady performances by Sinn Fein mark a growth in the Republic from having one TD about 20 years ago to a Dail presence in at least 15 out of the 40 constituencies.
Five years ago the party trebled its number of seats, a position which strategists considered a springboard to bridge divides between the different political arenas on both sides of the border.
But the slowed growth begs the question if the party has capitalised on the electorate’s search for a political alternative after economic collapse.
Others will ponder if Sinn Fein lost votes by calling for the abolition of the non-jury Special Criminal Court and supporting tax dodger and alleged former IRA leader Thomas “Slab” Murphy, or if it is Mr Adams’s unconvincing arguments on tax reform that failed to sway the undecideds.
Mr Adams said: “You can always do better, I would love that we were going into government with a majority – that takes time. These other parties have more depth, have more structures, have more organisation, have more resources.”
The leader again ruled out going into coalition with Fianna Fail or Fine Gael.
“We aren’t going to go in there (to government) and betray our electorate and betray the other people who need a progressive government,” he said.
“We are not going to go in and prop up a regressive and negative old conservative government, whatever the particular party political complexion.”