Major evening voting surge could see turnout reach 60pc
- Some 6,500 polling stations open across the country
- Voter turnout could now hit 60pc
- Number of people on supplemental register as high as 66pc in some stations -pointing to high turnout of newly registered voters
- Taoiseach: 'A high turnout would be advantageous to the Yes campaign'
- 'Rural constituencies could still surprise people' - Tánaiste
- Peader Toibin: 'Those on the margins of society suffer most from abortion'
A MAJOR evening voting surge could see turnout in the Eighth Amendment referendum reach 60pc.
The number of people on the supplemental register who had cast their vote by mid-afternoon was as high as 66pc in some individual polling stations, pointing to a high turnout of newly registered voters.
In Cork, a number of constituencies exceeded the 40pc turnout mark - with more than three hours of voting still to take place.
Polling stations in Ballincollig, Fermoy, Douglas, Bishopstown and Carrigaline in Cork confirmed they have exceeded 40pc turnout - several having passed the mark before 6pm.
In Co Mayo voting turnout at 4pm showed a high of 32pc in Westport and Ballina, with turnout in Castlebar coming in at the lowest in the county (23pc). Claremorris had a turnout of 27.5pc at that time, while Foxford stood at 26pc.
In Dublin at one polling station - St Finbarr’s National School in Cabra - turnout hit 40pc before 5pm, while in the south of the city turnout by early evening in Rathmines was 36.2pc, while in Sandymount it was 42pc according to Labour Senator Kevin Humphreys.
According to RTE News in south Wicklow the overall turnout had reached 32pc and in the west of the county it was lower at 27pc.
At 4.30pm turnout in Athlone was around 37pc, while in Roscommon it was 33pc.
The good weather was believed to be a helpful factor in the high voter turnout earlier today, but Taoiseach Leo Varadkar warned that the good weather could deter people from voting after work.
Both sides of the campaign are continuing to canvass as voting continues, and transport has been arranged by groups advocating on both sides of the debate to bring people to and from polling stations.
Earlier today the Save the 8th campaign group welcomed the early high turnout as "encouraging". However the Together For Yes group urged people not to be complacent over reports of a high turnout.
Polling stations will remain open until 10pm tonight and counting will begin at 9am on Saturday.
RTE News are to release the results of an exit poll at 11.30pm on the Late Late Show.
Turnout was exceptionally high in Fermoy, Cork where, on the eve of voting, a walk-out took place at a local graduation ceremony over the referendum being brought into a keynote school address.
A cleric devoted part of his address to the gathered Leaving Cert girls to the referendum - and then underlined a personal pro-life message.
However, one parent publicly challenged the cleric at the event - pointing out that multiple families had requested that the referendum not to be referenced as the graduation was not deemed an appropriate ceremony for such a discussion.
Several parents said they felt the specific topic was not suited to a graduation ceremony and could distract girls from their imminent examinations.
Other parents had also asked that all 'Yes' and 'No' campaign posters be removed from the vicinity of the graduation before the ceremony.
The father was applauded by a number of other parents after he publicly voiced his protest.
Several parents subsequently left the ceremony. Fermoy in Cork East has reflected the national referendum campaign - with multiple demonstrations and rallies by both sides over recent weeks, some on Kent Bridge over the River Blackwater.
With the peak evening voting surge traditionally taking place between 6pm and 8pm, there are now predictions that many parts of Cork could see a turnout in excess of 60pc.
Voting was initially slow across parts of Munster with many polling stations in low single digit turnout by 10am.
However, the first surge in voting took place from 10am to 11.30am - many involving people who decided to vote after attending religious ceremonies.
Polling stations officials have noted a significant increase in the number of women voting compared to previous referendum ballots - with the number of young women voting said to be at record levels.
Meanwhile, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said some rural constituencies may yet surprise people when it comes to the vote tallies in the Eighth Amendment referendum.
Mr Coveney acknowledged that it has only been over the past week or so that areas outside Dublin appear to have engaged with the same intensity in the referendum campaign as was evidenced from the very beginning in the greater Dublin area.
He also said that he believes many will be surprised by the strength of the 'Yes' vote in some rural areas.
“Up until around ten days ago, there wasn’t same level of intensity to the campaign outside Dublin as there was in Dublin," he said.
"I suspect that many rural constituencies may yet surprise people."
The Tanáiste said he believed a key element of the campaign is the number of voters who did not want to voice a preference - the so-called 'silent vote.'
“My sense from the private conversations I have had is that Ireland has changed its perspective on this issue."
Mr Coveney said his position had effectively changed once he started listening to the stories of people impacted by the law as it currently stands.
"A lot of people no longer see this issue in the sort of polarised pro-life versus pro-choice perspective."
“Instead, they see it as a much more complex issue that requires a more complex solution through legislation."
Mr Coveney said it is simply not acceptable for Ireland to effectively allow a situation where thousands of women are forced to go to the UK for procedures - and for thousands of others to take abortion pills sourced over the Internet and with little more treatment advice than what they can read via Internet search engines.
"This is not acceptable any longer and the pretence that by refusing change we are somehow protecting unborn life does not hold up either any longer.”
Mr Coveney, who was speaking as he voted in Carrigaline, Co Cork, again stressed that Ireland will not see any type of ultra-liberal abortion regime in Ireland.
“I am constantly trying to reassure people that if we see a strong 'Yes' vote tomorrow, we will not see the introduction of some kind of hyper-liberal approach to abortion in Ireland."
"(It will be) quite the opposite in fact – it will see the introduction of some of the most conservative legislation in Europe.”
The Cork TD also said that it will be matched by a radical overhaul of Ireland's sex education regime and greater supports for those in crisis situations.
Opposition TD Micheal Martin has also cast his vote in the Cork South Central constituency.
The Fianna Fail leader said he had voted Yes for a more compassionate and more humane response for women in Ireland.
He tweeted: "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"
Polls for the historic referendum opened across the country at 7am, with voters opting to either retain or repeal the Eighth, which prohibits terminations unless a mother's life is in danger.
Counting will begin on Saturday morning, with the result expected later that day - and the early indications are that it has been a strong turnout in many parts of the country so far today.
President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina cast their votes in Dublin at 9.30am.
A total of 3.3 million citizens are registered to vote, with 6,500 polling stations open across the country.
The referendum is asking whether people want to repeal the Eighth Amendment and replace it with wording that would hand politicians the responsibility to set future laws on abortion, unhindered by constitutional strictures.
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 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.
"I think it's the right thing for the women of Ireland – care, compassion, dignity and safety. Equal healthcare is why I'm voting 'Yes'," said Joanna Faughan (33) voting in the north Dublin suburb of Castleknock where queues formed before polls opened.
On the opposing side is a 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.
"I think it's important that we protect the unborn babies, people don't care anymore about the dignity of human life. I've a family myself and I think it's really important," said John Devlin, a marketing worker in his early 50s voting 'No' near Dublin's city centre.
Opinion polls have been tight, with most showing the Yes side in the lead.
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.
In many places, such as Mullingar, the turnout is higher than at this time during the Marriage Equality referendum in 2015.