DUBLIN – Polling stations in the Republic of Ireland opened on Friday for European Parliament and local elections, as well as a referendum on a proposal to change the Constitution regarding divorce.
Most of the more than three million people eligible to take part will get at least three ballot paper, with voters given the opportunity to ease restrictions on divorce in Ireland as well as to elect representatives at local and European levels.
The referendum will allow voters a chance to remove the minimum five-year waiting period and Ireland’s parliament to also to recognize foreign divorces.
The results of the local elections and the plebiscite will be made public on Saturday, whereas those for the European elections will be announced late Sunday, once all the countries in the European Union finish voting.
More than 2,000 residents on remote Atlantic islands off the coasts of the counties of Donegal, Galway and Mayo had cast their votes a day early in elections that have been dominated by a pro-European spirit in the wake of Brexit.
The United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union could give Ireland 13 seats in the European Parliament, two more than it currently has. However, the new lawmakers will not be able to take oath until London and Brussels conclude their treaty on separation, which is expected to happen on Oct.31.
However, the political instability that has engulfed the UK could still see a new referendum take place in the neighboring island kingdom.
In the local elections, the electorate will choose 949 representatives to the 31 municipal councils in the country, that are in turn divided into 166 electoral areas.
The ruling Fine Gael party led by Prime Minister Leo Varadkar leads the latest surveys with 28 percent of the people’s support in both the elections, followed by the main opposition group Fianna Fail with 25 percent, although some surveys indicate a tie between the two.
These two were followed by Sinn Fein – former political wing of the now inactive Irish Republican Army – with a support base swaying between 13 and 19 percent, and Green Party with five to seven percent.
While no surveys are available on the divorce referendum, a proposal by the government to reform the 24-year-old law is widely expected to be embraced by the country’s citizens.
The current law requires a couple wanting to divorce to have lived separately for four of the last five years, which needs to be established before a judge after first seeking a legal permission.
The polling booths opened at 0600 GMT and will close at 2100 GMT.