Saturday 3 December 2016

'Down with this sort of thing', say islanders forced to vote day early

Jane O'Faherty

Published 26/02/2016 | 02:30

Presiding officer Carmel McBride and Garda Sergeant Paul McGee carry a ballot box away from a polling station after voting concluded on the island of Inishbofin. Photo: Niall Carson/PA
Presiding officer Carmel McBride and Garda Sergeant Paul McGee carry a ballot box away from a polling station after voting concluded on the island of Inishbofin. Photo: Niall Carson/PA
Geraldine Hobbs and Grace Flaherty dressed up as characters from ‘Fr Ted’ to vote on Inis Mór yesterday ahead of the annual Tedfest on the island this weekend. Photo: Andrew Downes
Irish troops serving in the Golan Heights cast their postal votes ahead of today’s General Election, including Gunner John Murphy, Signalman Lloyd Staunton, Trooper Ian Bickerstaffe and Trooper Jimmy Whyte

The practice of early voting on isolated islands is a time-honoured tradition in Irish politics, but Inis Mór residents have called for it to be scrapped.

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Locals say it deprives those who are not ordinarily resident on the islands, such as students, the opportunity to vote.

Cathy Ní Ghóill, a resident on Inis Mór off the Galway coast, said young people from the island would rarely be able to return home from college on a Thursday.

"You could have 20 or 30 college students here, and that's a lot," she said. "That could make a big difference for a politician."

"Years ago, voting early was needed with the travel issues," she added. "But we have a brilliant ferry. We have a brilliant air service that the Government were prepared to cut."

Grace Flaherty, who works in Joe Watty's pub on the island, said she would "absolutely" support a move to vote at the same time as mainland polling stations.

"I don't think there's a need for us to vote early. Down on the Cork islands, they aren't voting early," she said.

"I'd love to see the new government do something to work with the language and the island," she added. "Right now, it's a matter of survival here."

The big issues on the largest Aran Island include the future of the flight service from the mainland, employment and healthcare facilities for residents.

But there was some room for fun and games in the midst of election fever. This week marked the first time an election coincided with Inis Mór's annual TedFest - a celebration of Father Ted's comedic legacy.

Ms Flaherty (59) donned her best nun's habit for the occasion as she was joined by Mrs Doyle on the way to the polls. "It's going to be a fun weekend, and we'll be watching the counts in costume," she said.

Meanwhile, Irish Air Corp pilot Michael Roarty popped into his former school in Falcarragh, Co Donegal, before collecting ballot boxes for voting on Tory Island.

Michael's former teachers from Pobalscoil Chloich Cheannfhaola were on hand to greet him on his way.

Deputy Principal Donna McFadden said the early voting on islands was always an exciting time for locals, who are visited by helicopters delivering supplies each week.

"When it's the air corps accompanied by two gardai, it does cause great excitement - especially when the pilot is from the area," she added.

Defence Forces troops also sent off their postal votes while on duty in the Golan Heights.

And a 97-year-old man in Ballinasloe, Co1 Galway, was one of the first to make his voice heard after the ballot boxes were brought to his nursing home.

Bertie Walsh was among residents of Ballinderry Nursing Home in Kilconnell who voted last Saturday.

Irish Independent

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