Voting underway in Republic's abortion referendum
Voting is under way in the Republic as citizens decide whether to liberalise one of Europe's strictest abortion regimes.
Polls for the historic referendum opened across the country at 7am, with voters opting to either retain or repeal the Eighth Amendment of the state's constitution, which prohibits terminations unless a mother's life is in danger.
Counting will begin on Saturday morning, with the result expected later that day.
Campaigners calling for a No vote have said they believe the outcome of the referendum is too close to call.
Save the 8th campaign chairwoman Niamh Ui Bhriain said they were encouraged by the high turnout being reported on Friday morning.
She said more than 4,000 volunteers were helping voters get to and from the polls on Friday.
"The Irish people are very clear about what they are voting on today - this is abortion on demand," Ms Ui Bhriain claimed.
"There is a growing and quiet confidence that all the work done by our campaign, and the other campaigns on the No side, will pay dividend this evening."
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar cast his vote in Castleknock, west Dublin this morning.
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Outside, Mr Varadkar spoke to a horde of media, including a significant number of international reporters.
Speaking after casting his vote, Mr Varadkar said he was not taking anything for granted but that he was "quietly confident" of the referendum passing.
He said there had been a good turnout so far across the country and he hoped that would continue throughout the day.
"A high turnout would be advantageous to the Yes campaign," Mr Varadkar said.
The taoiseach encouraged everyone to get out and vote.
"The upside of a good sunny day in Ireland is that people come out to vote," he said.
Opposition TD Micheál Martin cast his vote in the Cork South Central constituency.
The Fianna Fáil leader said he had voted Yes for a more compassionate and more humane response for women in Ireland.
One of the great strengths of Bunreacht na hEireann is its capacity for change through the will of the people.I have just voted to bring about a more compassionate and humane response for women in crisis pregnancies.#8thRef #Together4Yes pic.twitter.com/bfpnf3JJ5Z— Micheál Martin (@MichealMartinTD) May 25, 2018
Other politicians who have campaigned for a No vote have also cast their ballots. Independent TD Mattie McGrath, Fianna Fail Waterford TD Mary Butler, Galway East Independent TD Sean Canney all went to the polls this morning.
President Michael D Higgins has cast his vote in the referendum alongside his wife Sabina.
Labour party leader Brendan Howlin has also voted to repeal the Eighth Amendment.
The Wexford TD tweeted: "Today as #IVotedYes I thought of the 18,000 and more women who have travelled to the UK for abortions since 2012 especially the 429 who gave Wexford addresses. The 8th Amendment was wrong in 1983 and is wrong now."
Singer Niall Horan also posted his thoughts on the abortion referendum on social media.
Cmon Ireland ! This is your day to make another great decision. Please do right by the great women of our nation .— Niall Horan (@NiallOfficial) May 25, 2018
Vocal anti-abortion politician and Sinn Féin spokesman for the arts Peadar Tóibín called for Irish people to vote No to "abortion on demand".
The irony that the referendum on abortion is being held on International Missing Children's Day will not be lost on many Irish people. Those on the margins of society suffer most from abortion. Vote No to Abortion on Demand. pic.twitter.com/NeQ43d0FFn— Peadar Tóibín (@Toibin1) May 25, 2018
Speaking after casting her vote for Yes, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said it was an historic day.
"This is a momentous decision we're being asked to make for all of Irish society but particularly for Irish women," Ms McDonald said.
She added: "The sun is out so nobody has any excuse but to get to their local polling station and to cast their vote."
She described May 25th as a "date with destiny for all of us".
The Catholic Church is among influential voices arguing that the life of the unborn should be sacrosanct, but the retain campaign faces a major challenge from a Yes camp which has portrayed itself as modernising and in step with international opinion.
If the public votes Yes, the Dublin government intends to legislate by the end of the year to make it relatively easy for a woman to obtain the procedure in early pregnancy.
Ministers have promised 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.
The debate during eight weeks of campaigning has been divisive, with the leaders of all the main political parties, including Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, backing change.
They argued that a Yes vote represented the compassionate choice for thousands of Irish women forced to travel to England for the procedure.
Opposing them was a vocal No camp, including the bishops, which insisted the life of the child is sacrosanct and interference in that right is immoral.
Campaigners against change have used emotive language to highlight the threat to the foetus and warned against "extreme" proposals from the Government which could be expanded in future years.
Opinion polls have been tight, with most showing the Yes side in the lead.
Tánaiste Simon Coveney has cast his vote in the referendum in his native Cork pic.twitter.com/CUxtorro8G— RTÉ News (@rtenews) May 25, 2018
The indication is that rural voters are more likely to say No than their urban counterparts, while a significant number of "don't knows" have cast a degree of uncertainty over the outcome.
Around 2,000 voters in 12 islands off the mainland were eligible to vote on Thursday to prevent any delay in counting their ballot papers.
The Eighth Amendment is a clause in the constitution which was written after a previous referendum on the issue in 1983 recognised the right to life of the unborn child.
It protects the equal right to life of the mother and the unborn and effectively prohibits abortion in most cases.
In 1992, women were officially given the right to travel abroad, mostly to the UK, to obtain terminations. Pro-repeal campaigners said almost 170,000 have done so.
The liberalisation campaign gathered momentum after an Indian dentist, Savita Halappanavar, died in hospital in Galway aged 31 when she was refused an abortion during a miscarriage.
Her husband, Praveen Halappanavar, said she repeatedly asked for a termination but was refused because there was a foetal heartbeat.
In 2013, legislation was amended to allow terminations under certain tightly restricted circumstances - the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act.
When doctors felt a woman's life was at risk due to complications from the pregnancy, or from suicide, they were permitted to carry out an abortion.
Under pressure from the UN about alleged degrading treatment of women who travelled to England for terminations, the Dublin government began exploring the possibility of further reform, culminating in the calling of this referendum and the promise to legislate.