Polling stations closed: steady voter turnout in #GE16 across country despite snow-ice warning
* Snow-ice warning issued for Cork, Kerry and Waterford this evening
* Almost 3.3 million voters eligible to cast their ballots
* More than 30,000 registered in time to vote
* Enda Kenny and Michéal Martin have cast their votes
Published 26/02/2016 | 07:17
Polling stations across the country, where the votes for the General Election have been cast since 7am this morning, have now closed.
In the final hour of voting, turnout across the county remained steady with the traditional evening/night surge as commuters returned home from work.
Returning officers in polling stations in several constituencies described the turnout as brisk throughout the day.
Almost 3.3 million voters were expected to go the polls today, facing one of the most unpredictable outcomes in recent times.
More than 550 candidates are fighting in 40 constituencies for just 158 Dail seats in the 32nd Dáil.
As the electorate increasingly turns away from mainstream parties to smaller factions and Independents, a hung parliament is widely predicted.
In this year's General Election race, such is the voter schism it threatens to blow apart a duopoly enjoyed for more than 80 years by the currently ruling Fine Gael party and the main Opposition party Fianna Fail.
Bitter rivals since Ireland's civil war - despite little significant difference in their conservative policies - the pair who swapped power for generations may be forced into a historic "grand coalition".
The coupling would have been unspeakable among their rank and file just years ago but is now hotly-tipped by pollsters and pundits as the odds-on favourite outcome.
The tectonic shift could also open a definitive right/left divide in Ireland's parliament, the Dail, for the first time since the foundation of the State.
Opinion polls show little chance of the outgoing Fine Gael/Labour coalition being returned to power on their own.
After five years of bruising austerity, the junior partners Labour would need to defy predictions of decimation at the ballot box to help make up the numbers.
Other possibilities include a minority Fine Gael government, supported by arch-enemies Fianna Fail, or a rainbow coalition of Fine Gael, Labour and some smaller parties.
Once a clear picture emerges from the weekend counting of votes, the parties will have until March 10 - when the Dail is scheduled to resume - to forge a power-sharing deal.
The spectre of a second election will loom over any uncertainty.
Despite being the shortest general election campaign in Irish political history, it was a drawn-out, lacklustre three weeks that generally failed to ignite the imagination of the population.
With eight fewer seats than last time around, the competition will be particularly intense in some constituencies who are down a representative.
Dublin remained steady at 5pm as Dublin South Central reported a 43pc turnout while Dublin Bay South was at 30pc, Dublin Central 35pc, Dublin Bay North 38pc and Dublin North West 28pc.
Elsewhere in Leinster, the constituency of Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams averaged at 30pc turnout by 5pm.
Tánaiste Joan Burton’s Dublin West constituency reported an 18pc turnout in Dublin West earlier today.
Ms Burton herself was the only party leader who could not vote for herself, after boundary changes ensured she had to vote in Dublin Central.
Elsewhere in the City, Dubliners turned out in force as polling stations reported a “high” early turnout for the General Election.
Dublin South Central and Dublin Bay North have seen over 30pc turnout by 3pm.
However, voting figures in County Dublin are lower with a surge expected this evening as commuters return home to vote from the City Centre.
The poor weather conditions in Munster look set to put a dampener turnout.
Tipperary is worst affected by rain with an average turnout in Clonmel at 40pc at 5pm, while Thurles and Nenagh are 35pc and 38pc respectively.
At the same time, Limerick city polling stations report between 30-35pc turnout, while Waterford city is averaged at 45pc at 5pm.
Snowfall has also been reported in parts of Waterford and Cork this evening, and the adverse weather is feared to affect the turnout in the county.
Met Eireann have issued a yellow weather alert, with a snow-ice warning in effect from 6pm this evening until 3am tomorrow morning.
Cork City has a turnout of 45pc on South side of the city, in Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin’s constituency.
Rainfall across Cork city and county became heavier from lunchtime and reached torrential levels in some parts of north and east Cork this afternoon. Rainfall was so heavy it resulted in spot flooding in parts of the city and county.
Ballot station officers admitted that, as rainfall became heavier, voter turnout rates noticeably slowed.
While many city and county stations were reporting turnout of between 30pc and 36pc from 3pm, that had slowed considerably this evening.
Turnout in some parts of Cork South Central and Cork North Central is around 34pc-36pc while parts of Cork East and Cork South West are close to 38pc.
Cork North West is close to 40pc turnout at some stations.
One voting station in Fermoy stressed that it had been exceptionally quiet for the past two hours and far behind comparable voting rates for General Election 2011.
Traditionally, Cork constituencies register their heaviest rate of voting between 5pm and 8pm.
Analysts have said that turnout will be particularly crucial in Cork South Central, one of the key marginal constituencies nationwide.
Galway City polling stations stood at 30pc-35pc in Galway West by 5pm, which was formerly represented in Dáil Éireann by President Michael D Higgins.
Returning officers have reported that dry weather in Galway has kept “a trickle of voters” at polling stations.
Voting in some parts of Donegal is high with 50pc in some centres at 5pm.
Just before midday in Wicklow Town, a polling station recorded a 15pc turnout, another station in Greystones recorded a similar turnout and a polling station in Bray was at 10pc.
Around the same time, the turnout in Wexford Town was 14pc, Gorey 15pc, Enniscorthy 15pc and New Ross 13pc.
Marie Garahy, returning officer for both Wexford and Carlow-Kilkenny provided the Irish Independent with numbers from midday.
The only available numbers from the Carlow-Kilkenny constituency was from Carlow town which saw turnout at 14pc.
A polling station in Louisburgh Mayo recorded an impressive 55pc turnout before lunch time today.
At 3pm, in St. Patricks National School, Castlebar was at 29pc, Foxford New School was at 22pc, Sean Duffy Centre in Ballina was at 28pc, Scoil Phadraig national school in Westport was at 30.5pc.
The high turnout is in part down to a local campaign to have every eligible voter in the area vote in the General Election to commemorate the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising.
The Cavan-Monaghan returning officer Joseph Smith, said it would not be until the close of polling when percentages of turnout would be clear.
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Islanders off the coasts of Donegal, Mayo and Galway voted on Thursday to make sure their ballots were back in time for the count.
Ms Burton said she was feeling "upbeat and optimistic" as she cast her vote at St Joseph's School for Deaf Boys on the Navan Road earlier today.
The Labour Party leader arrived with husband Pat Carroll and met with fellow party member Joe Costello.
She talked to a number of the pupils from the school, including Johnny O'Toole and Roman McDonagh both from Connemara before going into the polling station.
Then she met with a number of voters who shook her hand and wishes her luck.
Afterwards, Joan said she had had "the nicest early morning canvass" of the whole campaign that morning outside Coolmine railway station, adding: "So that's a good omen and I'm feeling upbeat and optimistic about tomorrow."
She noted the turnout had been "brisk" at the station and said she was glad the weather was so good for voting and urged everyone to turn out.
"It is the 100th anniversary of 1916 and I think it is appropriate in this anniversary year that as many people as possible should come out and vote," she said.
Earlier, Mary Lou McDonald admitted she was at a loose end with no canvassing to do as she cast her vote also at St Joseph's NS on the Navan Road.
"But I have plenty to do," she said. "I haven't done that much housework in the past three weeks."
The Sinn Fein candidate said it was a great day for polling, with a good dry day and a bit of sunshine.
"But it's not over yet - it's not over til ten o'clock," she warned.
She was quick to cast her vote in the polling booth and afterwards stopped to have her photograph taken with a number of voters outside.
The Cork constituency is dropping from five to four Dail seats and is being intensely contested by such political heavyweights as Fianna Fail leader, Michael Martin, Opposition finance spokesman, Michael McGrath, Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney, high-profile backbench TD Jerry
Buttimer and Oireachtas banking inquiry chairman, Ciaran Lynch.
Sinn Fein has targeted the constituency as one of their national priorities for a Dail breakthrough.
Cork East had a turnout of 12.8pc, Cork South-West was at 15pc and Cork North-West was sitting 13.2pc just after midday.
In Cork city itself the constituencies of Cork North and South Central turnout remained unclear.
Returning officer Martin Harvey said that it wouldn’t be clear until close of polls what kind of a turnout would be seen.
He added that very heavy rainfall was being seen in the city, which was affecting the reporting of the numbers.
Cork South Central, regarded as one of the crucial marginal constituencies in General Election 2016, is dropping from five to four Dail seats.
It has been nicknamed the 'Group of Death' given the powerful politicians based there including Fianna Fail leader, Michael Martin, Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney, Opposition finance spokesman, Michael McGrath, Oireachtas banking inquiry chairman, Ciaran Lynch, and high-profile Government backbench TD Jerry Buttimer.
Cork North West and Cork South are now estimated to have turnouts of between 15pc and 20pc, depending on the voting station involved.
Cork East is lagging slightly behind with turnout estimated at between 14pc and 18pc though traditionally the rural constituency reports heaviest voting between 4pm and 8pm.
Fianna Fail leader Michael Martin admitted that turnout will be crucial in determining the ultimate outcome of the election.
Mr Martin said he anticipated that turnout rates would be very high given the increased number of political parties and, in particular, independent candidates contesting General Election 2016.
"It is very early days yet. You are going to have a lot of speculation around that. People will start to get very excited around 8pm tonight," he said.
"There will be flurries of texts asking what does this mean, what does that mean. By and large, it will be steady as she goes."
"I hope the weather stay reasonable because that could be a factor. I got a sense earlier - we have a lot of parties, a lot of new parties and independents. I think there is a lot of activity on the ground. I would like to think that will manifest itself in a higher turnout."
"But we will have to wait and see."
Mr Martin said it was important that every voter exercises their democratic franchise.
The leaders of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil cast their votes today, wearing the colours of the other party.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny arrived at his local polling station in St Anthony's School, Castlebar, wearing a green tie, the colour of the soldiers of destiny.
In Cork, Micheál Martin cast his vote at another St Anthony's school wearing a Fine Gael blue tie.
With polls suggesting a hung Dáil a strong possibility unless the old rivals for a historic coalition, The Herald/Independent.ie asked Mr Kenny if the choice of tie colours was a sign of things to come.
"Well he [Mr Martin] didn't contact me about that," Mr Kenny said laughing.
"This one's for Ireland," he added.
Mr Martin also laughed when asked if his choice of colour represented any type of signal about the much-speculated Fianna Fail-Fine Gael Coalition.
"Ah, will you give me a break," Mr Martin joked with reporters in Ballinlough.
"It is like this - I was wearing red ties for about 10 years and people eventually said to me will you ever get rid of the blue shirt and the red tie."
But while he wore a Fine Gael-hued tie, he sported a white rather than blue shirt.
Mr Kenny arrived at his polling station shortly after 10am accompanied by his wife Fionnuala.
He cast his voting slip and gave the ballot box a rap with his hand.
"I just hope that everybody around the country accepts their responsibility today and that people go out and vote and do their constitutional duty. It really is an important day for Ireland because the decision's being made today by the people - who rule after all, who will determine the future direction of the country for the next five years."
He said he will visit other polling stations around Mayo to greet staff. He will not be canvassing at the voting locations as it is forbidden by strict election rules.
"There's nothing else you can do anyway," Mr Kenny said.
Mr Martin refused to discuss any potential outcomes of General Election 2016 - warning that voters are still exercising their franchise and the opening of the ballot boxes tomorrow will reveal all.
But he said that it has been a very good campaign for Fianna Fail which had been decimated in General Election 2011.
"It has been a good campaign - I've enjoyed getting out there, campaigning, calling to people's doors and engaging with them," he said.
"I actually feel quite energised about how the whole campaign has gone."
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Mr Martin said he wanted to pay a particular tribute to the thousands of Fianna Fail volunteers who had worked so hard to rebuild the party and ensure that it was a positive election campaign.
"What I actually found is that it went very fast. It was non-stop and what was interesting was trying to manage the media set-up because we now live in a multi-media age."
"Trying to manage that in your overall schedule of canvassing and going to the key constituencies to try and get that extra lift for candidates and get them over the line."
"I have to say I enjoyed it."
He acknowledged that voter turnout will now be critical.
He said that while turnout may be relatively slow in some areas this morning, he expected a significant turnout with the majority of people voting in the afternoon and evening.
Mr Martin was accompanied to his local polling station by his wife, Mary, and children, Michael Aodh and Aoibhe.
Both his children were voting in their first General Election.
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Additional reporting by PA