Republic of Ireland news

Islanders vote early in abortion referendum

Garda Pat McIlroy and Nancy Sharkey, Presiding Officer for Gola Island, an island off the coast of Donegal, Ireland, arrive on the island with the ballot box as Islanders go to the polls. Brian Lawless/Press Association 
Eleanor Barlow, Press Association

THE first votes in the abortion referendum have been cast as islanders took to the polling stations.

An electorate of just over 2,000 in islands off the west coast of the country are able to cast their votes a day before the rest of the country, as Ireland decides whether to reform some of the strictest termination laws in Europe.

Ballot boxes were taken by boat to 12 islands in Donegal, Galway and Mayo on Thursday morning, before the main vote on Friday, to prevent delays in transportation and counting of ballot papers.

On Gola Island in Donegal, the polls opened shortly after 11am for the 29 registered voters to have their say.

Presiding officer Nancy Sharkey and Guard Pat McElroy took the ballot box on the 10-minute boat journey over to the island, where the polls were due to be open until 3pm.

The polling station was opened in the home of Jimmy Sweeney (65) who has lived on the island since he was born.

Mr Sweeney, who was the first person to cast a vote, said: "We always have the polling station in here, we've no objection."

He added: "There's a lot of interest in the vote."

His son Hugh, 26, was second to go to the ballot box.

He said: "This vote means a lot to young people.

"It's a difficult one because in the media you have people pushing a Yes vote and people pushing a No vote and you just need to make up your own mind."

The country is voting on whether to repeal the Eighth Amendment, which effectively outlaws abortion in all cases unless a mother's life is in danger.

Islanders in south-west Cork will vote on Friday along with the rest of the country.

If people vote Yes in the referendum, the Government intends to allow terminations within the first 12 weeks, subject to medical advice and a cooling-off period, and between 12 and 24 weeks in exceptional circumstances.

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