Election 2020: ‘We should vote on the same day,’ islander says casting ballot

On 8.30am ferry to Arranmore Island ballot box number 161 was most important cargo

Voters on the islands off the coasts of Donegal, Mayo and Galway are going to the polls one day ahead of the rest of the country. Video: Enda O'Dowd

 

On the 8.30am ferry from Burtonport to Arranmore Island, there is an important cargo.

Garda Margaret Byrne reverses the police car onto the ferry with care; inside, on the back seat, is ballot box number 161. It is destined for Arranmore National School, one of two polling stations where the island’s electorate of 513 people will cast their votes.

Voters on the islands off the coasts of Donegal, Mayo and Galway are going to the polls today, one day ahead of the rest of the country. Almost 2,200 voters are eligible to cast their ballot on the islands today; those on the Cork islands will vote on Saturday.

Presiding officer Sandra Callaghan and Garda Margaret Byrne in Arranmore. Photograph: Enda O’Dowd
Presiding officer Sandra Callaghan and Garda Margaret Byrne in Arranmore. Photograph: Enda O’Dowd

On Arranmore, the largest of the Donegal islands, Garda Byrne and the presiding officer, Sandra Callaghan, carry the ballot box into the classroom. The children’s books and toys have been tidied away to one side, and the room cleared; a polling booth stands ready and waiting in the corner.

Based in nearby Dungloe, Garda Byrne has accompanied ballot boxes to Arranmore and Inishfree during previous elections. “I love this bit,” she says. “I’ve been out on the island loads of times, but on polling day you get to meet people you wouldn’t otherwise see.”

Presiding Officer, James Doohan and Garda Eamonn Gallagher carry Ballot boarrive on Inishbofin Island from an Air Corps helicopter in Co Donegal . Photograph: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin
Presiding Officer, James Doohan and Garda Eamonn Gallagher carry Ballot boarrive on Inishbofin Island from an Air Corps helicopter in Co Donegal . Photograph: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

By 10am they are ready; voting hours here are shorter, from 10am until 7.30pm, and a special ferry sailing has been laid on to bring the box back to the mainland immediately afterwards, ready for the count to begin in Letterkenny on Sunday morning.

Each of the other islands have their own arrangements: on Gola, off the coast of Gweedore, voting takes place in the house of one Mr James Sweeney; the polling hours are shorter, too, between 11am and 3pm, and the single ballot box is delivered by the Air Corps.

On Inishfree, near Dungloe, only four people are eligible to vote. A polling station is being set up on council premises at the pier, and polls are only open at lunchtime, between 12pm and 2pm.

Early voting on the islands was due to be abolished under private member’s legislation introduced by the Fianna Fáil TD for Galway West, Eamon Ó Cuív, but it did not complete its progress through the Oireachtas in time for this election.

On Arranmore, postmistress Noreen Martin admits surprise: “I thought it had already been sorted out.” She is “absolutely” in favour of the islands voting at the same time as the rest of the country.

She points out that because the islands vote early, there is effectively no moratorium on electioneering. “There have been times when something has happened after I voted, and I’ve thought I wish I hadn’t voted for that particular party.”

“It’s not really fair that we get to vote ahead,” says another voter. “We should vote on the same day.”

Ballot boxes arrive on Inishbofin Island from an Air Corps helicopter in Co Donegal. Photograph: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin
Ballot boxes arrive on Inishbofin Island from an Air Corps helicopter in Co Donegal. Photograph: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

Minister of State for the Islands and Government Chief Whip Sean Kyne said it was up to the returning officer in each island constituency to decide on the date.

Met Éireann has issued yellow wind and rain warnings for the whole country for election day. Voters going to the polls on Saturday are likely to have to brave winds gusting at up to 110 km/h and heavy rain.

Mayo returning officer Fintan J Murphy said early voting ensured that “even with inclement weather there is every possibility we will be able to ship the ballot boxes to the mainland in time to allow the count for the Mayo constituency to proceed at 9am on Sunday the 9th [of February]”.