Turnout in Cork slightly lower than in 2019

The public will be electing a swathe of new councillors as well as picking candidates to send to the European Parliament and, for the first time, some voters will be directly electing a mayor to represent them locally.

The separate elections come at a febrile time in Irish politics dominated by discussion on a housing crisis, the cost of living and migration.

The coalition partnership of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party has been battling criticism domestically and on the continent over other issues including climate action, agriculture policy and defence co-operation in the EU.

In Cork City, turnout reached an average of 10% by lunchtime while it was at 11.3% across Cork county. This is slightly lower than the same time in 2019 when local elections were last held.

In Dingle, Co Kerry 18% of voters had cast a ballot by lunch, while the figures stood at 12% in Kilkenny. At around 10.30am, turnout ranged from 5.8% in Listowel up to a high of 11.5% in Kilgarvan, the homeplace of the Healy-Rae political dynasty.

In Carlow town some 8.6% of voters had turned out by midday.

Across Dublin city turnout was ranging between 9% in the south east inner city and 15% in Donaghmede at 12.30.

Earlier, Environment Minister Eamon Ryan said that while there is some unhappiness among the public about the coalition, there is no widespread “anti-government sentiment”.

Mr Ryan, who cast his ballot at the Muslim National School in Clonskeagh, Co Dublin this morning, said he thinks that the public believe the three party coalition of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party is working.

“This is a Government that’s working and my sense in the last few months canvassing is people, they recognise the government is working.

“Now, they’re not happy with — rightly — a whole range of different things, we need to do better.

“But you couldn’t say out there that there’s a strong anti-government sentiment at the moment. We’ll see if that’s reflected in the count in the end.” 

The Green Party leader said he was confident about the chances of his party’s candidates. However, he did admit that the party does face a challenge due to their strong performance at the 2019 local and European elections.

“We’ve a challenge because the last election five years ago was a really high watermark across Europe. Climate was very much central stage in the public consciousness, so if we get anywhere near what we got in the last election we’ll be really pleased,” Mr Ryan said.

“I’m confident because we’ve got really good people and I do think the issues that vote green stands for are centre stage today. This European election is about whether Europe keeps going green or not.” 

Mr Ryan was hopeful for a good turnout today, saying that the clerk of his own polling station said that there was a queue out the door as polls opened at 7am.

Election to give parties evidence of voter sentiment

Meanwhile, the results of the election will provide political parties with concrete evidence of voter sentiment, having had to wait more than four years since the last nationwide elections.

The main takeaway of the 2020 General Election campaign was a massive upswing in support for Sinn Féin, which took away almost a quarter of the popular vote.

To leader Mary Lou McDonald’s regret, this was unrealised potential as the party was still left in opposition after failing to run a sufficient number of candidates in the parliamentary constituencies.

Since then, estimated support for Sinn Féin hovered above 30% for a long time – even temporarily reaching highs of around 35%.

However, opinion polls over the last eight months suggest that support for the party is on a dramatic slide – as independents eat up more of the expected vote share.

Ballot boxes being prepared for the election (Brian Lawless/PA)

Many of the ballot papers across the elections contain a large number of independents with a variety of political leanings, several of whom have been described as anti-immigrant.

For a protracted period of time, Ireland has continued to fail to provide accommodation for all asylum seekers. There have been several anti-migrant protests across the State and buildings earmarked to accommodate refugees have been damaged in suspected arson attacks.

Also of note, Fine Gael appears to have had somewhat of a “Harris hop” in the polls following the shock resignation of Leo Varadkar as leader of the party earlier this year, leading to Simon Harris taking over that position as well as the role of Taoiseach.

The results of the three campaigns being decided on Friday may be instructive for the overall state of the parties – and could potentially direct Mr Harris’ decision on when to call the next general election, which must be held by March next year.

Across the island, millions of residents are eligible to vote in local elections.

There are 31 local government bodies in Ireland. Each county and city council is divided into local electoral areas with a specified number of council seats to be filled in the election.

In total, there are 166 electoral areas in Ireland and each of them elects a number of councillors. The number of councillors to be elected nationally is 949.

These representatives are tasked with making policy decisions at local level including on planning and community development.

European elections

At the same time, EU citizens registered in Ireland are eligible to vote for 14 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) across three varied constituencies: Dublin, South, and Midlands-North-West.

The MEPs are responsible for debating EU-wide legislation and working on the budget for the bloc.

The local and European elections are held every five years.

In the south west of the country, voters in Limerick city and county have the opportunity to directly elect a mayor. From now on, this vote will also take place every five years.

The successful candidate will be considered the region’s first citizen and will have unique executive powers around long-term strategic planning, including measures on housing delivery, road infrastructure and environmental measures.

They can serve a maximum of two terms, each lasting five years.

There are 15 candidates vying for the new job – which carries a salary of approximately €150,000.

Voting will come to an end at 10pm on Friday, but the results will take days to be finalised.

The role is seen as a test case for further rollout at other local authorities in the future.

Proportional representation

Ballots in the local elections can begin to be sorted straight away on Saturday but results in the European election cannot be declared until after all EU states have finished polling – which will not happen until late on Sunday night. Counting in the mayoral election is expected to begin on Monday.

Even then, Ireland uses a system of proportional representation which allows voters to rank every candidate in each race by order of preference.

Candidates must reach a certain quota of votes in order to be deemed elected.

In the likely event that not enough candidates are above this threshold following the first count, hopefuls with the least amount of votes are eliminated and their votes are redistributed based on the further preferences on the ballot papers. The same occurs when a candidate is elected with a “surplus” of votes.

It means the paper ballots in each election, which are filled out with pencil or pens, are sorted and counted multiple times by hand.

The entire process can take days to complete.

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