First votes to be cast in Irish abortion referendum

Campaign posters outside Government Buildings in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA) Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

The first votes of the Irish abortion referendum will be cast later when many islanders take to the polling booths.

An electorate of just over 2,000 is expected in a scattering of Atlantic outposts today as Ireland decides whether to reform some of the strictest termination laws in Europe.

The poll on whether to keep the Eighth Amendment of the Republic’s constitution is being held a day earlier in some places as it will help prevent delays in transportation and counting of ballot papers.

The Eighth effectively outlaws abortion in all cases unless a mother’s life is in danger and its repeal would allow the Government to introduce laws permitting the procedure in early pregnancy.

Ballot boxes and electoral officials will be carried by boat from the mainland to counties Donegal, Galway and Mayo in Ireland’s far west later this morning.

Credit: PA

In some cases whitewashed family cottages are repurposed as polling booths. Warm scones, hot tea and open fires often accompany the posting of the ballots.

Islands in south-west Cork will vote on Friday along with the rest of the country.

Weeks of campaigning ahead of the abortion referendum have polarised opinion across the country.

Proponents have characterised it as a modernising measure which shows compassion for the thousands of women who travel to Britain to undergo the procedure and will allow Ireland to take back control within its own health service.

Opponents argue that the life of the unborn is sacrosanct and warn against the abuse of power over the issue by future governments which could widen the scope for abortion.

If people vote yes, the Government intends to allow terminations within the first 12 weeks, subject to medical advice and a cooling-off period, and between 12 and 24 weeks in a restricted fashion.

The procedure would be prohibited after 24 weeks.