Elections 2019: All parties report diminished public interest

Big parties seeking to manage expectations of their results as turnout expected to be low

Presiding officer Carmel McBride and Garda Adrian McGettigan carry a ballot box from the polling station on the island of Inishbofin, Co Donegal. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Presiding officer Carmel McBride and Garda Adrian McGettigan carry a ballot box from the polling station on the island of Inishbofin, Co Donegal. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

Candidates and parties yesterday made their final pitches to voters in advance of polling in the local and European elections, with politicians in all parties urging voters to turn out amid general expectations of a low turnout.

Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar was campaigning in Cork yesterday morning, before returning to Dublin to receive a courtesy call from the king of Sweden, who is on an official visit.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin was also campaigning in Cork, while Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald was on the stump in the Midlands North West constituency before returning to Dublin.

All parties issued last-minute appeals to the more than 3.3 million voters entitled to go to the polls today, while individual candidates engaged in a flurry of final rounds of canvassing and social media activity.

In recent days the big parties have been seeking to manage expectations of their results, an indication of the unpredictability of elections that are likely to see turnout fall below 50 per cent, observers say.

Turnout at the last local and European elections was just below 52 per cent, but all parties report diminished interest and engagement from voters during the campaign. Fine Gael is seeking to retain its four European Parliament seats, and possibly add one, most likely in the Midlands North West constituency, while Fianna Fáil is seeking to improve on the one seat it won in 2014 by taking seats in all three constituencies.

Both parties will also compete to top the local elections poll, which Fianna Fáil led narrowly five years ago.

Sinn Féin vote

Sinn Féin sources acknowledge that its vote is likely to be under pressure after a strong performance in 2014, but the party hopes to hold its three European Parliament seats and most of its local authority seats. Sinn Féin will be under pressure from, among others, an anticipated increase in support for the Green Party, which has hopes of European seats, most strongly in Dublin.

Labour is hoping to see signs of a revival of the party after two intensely difficult elections in 2014 and 2016.

Voting began on the offshore islands yesterday, while most polling stations will open at 7am this morning and remain open until 10pm tonight. Counts begin at 9am tomorrow morning.

Voters will also choose whether to amend the Constitution to loosen the restrictions on divorce, while in Cork, Waterford and Limerick there will be plebiscites to decide whether to introduce directly elected mayors to head the local authorities.

Chairwoman of the Referendum Commission Ms Justice Tara Burns also urged people to turn out today. “The Constitution belongs to the people of Ireland and can be changed only by them and not by government, politicians or courts,” she said in a statement.

“However, only those who actually vote end up having a say. This is your Constitution as much as it is anyone else’s, but if you don’t vote, you are allowing others make important decisions for you.”