Ireland’s political leaders cast votes as country goes to polls

By Michael McHugh and David Young, Press Association

Ireland’s political leaders have cast their votes in the European Parliament elections and local authority elections.

Irish President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina also voted on Friday morning at their local polling station at St Mary’s Hospital in Dublin’s Phoenix Park.

The couple, who presented their passports as a form of ID, spent a number of minutes casting their votes from the long list of candidates in the Dublin constituency.

President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina cast their votes (Brian Lawless/PA)

Irish premier Leo Varadkar voted at around midday at his local polling station in Castleknock.

After marking the ballot papers, he joked to reporters: “I really had to think about the transfers.”

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald voted at St Joseph’s School on the Navan Road in Dublin.

In Cork, Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin was accompanied by his wife Mary and their children Micheal A and Aoibhe as they all cast their votes at St Anthony’s Boys National School in Ballinlough.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, voting with his wife Mary and their children Micheal A and Aoibhe (Micheal Martin/PA)

More than 6,500 polling stations around the country opened at 7am and will close at 10pm.

Two of the 13 elected MEPs face an uncertain wait as to when they can take their seats due to the Brexit delay.

The Republic is receiving two of the 27 places formerly reserved for the UK which are being redistributed among 14 member states.

The UK is participating in the poll, with British MEPs set to attend the inaugural plenary session of the new parliament on July 2.

As a result, those elected in last place in Ireland’s Dublin and South constituencies must wait to see if they can take their seats.

Residents on remote Atlantic islands off the coasts of Donegal, Galway and Mayo cast their votes a day early (Niall Carson/PA)

Residents on remote Atlantic islands off the coasts of Donegal, Galway and Mayo cast their votes a day early on Thursday.

Local council elections are also being held on Friday, as is a referendum on divorce laws – with a Yes set to reduce the lengthy period separated couples have to wait before they can obtain a formal divorce.

Voters in Cork, Waterford and Limerick will also be able to participate in separate plebiscites on government proposals to create directly elected city mayoral positions with executive functions.

Counting in the local elections and divorce referendum will begin on Saturday morning.

The European election count for Ireland’s three constituencies – Dublin, South, and Midlands-North-West – will commence on Sunday morning at centres in Dublin, Cork and Castlebar, Co Mayo.

A Europe-wide embargo means the first results in that poll cannot be declared until 10pm that night.

‘I’ve Voted’ stickers at a polling station in Dublin (Brian Lawless/PA)

If previous elections are a guide, counting is likely to continue through into Monday.

Counting in the mayoral plebiscites is likely to get under way in the three impacted cities on the Monday.

The European and local government elections will be the first electoral test for Ireland’s main parties since the inconclusive general election of 2016.

The result delivered a hung parliament and precipitated months of negotiations between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, two parties with a century-old enmity dating back to Ireland’s Civil War.

A historic accord emerged that saw Fianna Fail agree to support a minority Fine Gael-led government through a confidence and supply deal for three years.

The parties renewed that arrangement late last year, extending what has been dubbed an era of “new politics” until early 2020.

While Friday’s elections focus on European and council issues, the results will no doubt be interpreted as a public judgment on Fine Gael’s performance in government and how effectively Fianna Fail has managed the delicate balancing act of holding an administration to account while at the same time propping it up.

Other smaller parties in the Oireachtas parliament, such as Sinn Fein, the Green Party and Labour, will hope to be the beneficiaries of any potential public disaffection with “new politics”.