Voting begins in Meath East by-election
VOTING has begun in the Meath East by-election with the Government facing its first big electoral test.
Fine Gael's candidate Helen McEntee, daughter of the late Shane McEntee, is expected to go close with Fianna Fail's Thomas Byrne also said to have drummed up big support.
Labour's Eoin Holmes and Sinn Fein's Darren O'Rourke are expected to be top of the also rans.
Polling stations stay open until 9pm, an hour earlier than usual but most commentators agree that anyone who wishes to vote will not be put off by the new deadline.
Counting begins on Thursday morning in Ashbourne with the Fine Gael-Labour coalition hoping that they can reverse the tradition of governing parties taking a kicking in a by-election.
Most political pundits have forecast the result too close to call.
Mr Byrne has a political background having previously held a Dail seat in the area only to suffer in the party's decimation at the 2011 election.
Ms McEntee is regarded as coming from a strong farming background with the benefit of her father's popularity in the north of the county.
As ever transfers will play a key role with Mr Byrne demonstrating a determined approach to canvassing by asking Sinn Fein voters to transfer to him even though no electoral pact was in play.
There are 11 candidates on the ballot paper including Ben Gilroy, Direct Democracy Ireland; Charlie Keddy, Independent; Mick Martin, Independent; Seamus McDonagh, Workers' Party; Gerard O'Brien, Independent; Sean O Buachalla, Green Party; and Jim Tallon, Independent.