Belfast Telegraph

Leaders urge voters to go to polls

Party leaders have urged people to make their vote count as polls opened in the most eagerly anticipated election in decades.

Almost 3.2 million voters are registered to cast their ballots with 550-plus candidates running in 43 constituencies for 165 of the 166 seats - Ceann Comhairle Seamus Kirk, the Dail speaker, is automatically returned.

Polling stations opened at 7am and party leaders have been voting in their constituencies.

In Castlebar, Co Mayo, Taoiseach-in-waiting Enda Kenny, leader of Fine Gael, was accompanied by his wife Fionnuala and daughter Aoibhinn, a first-time voter, as he urged people to cast their ballot.

"I hope that as many people as possible, all over the country, go and cast their vote today," he said. "The more people who vote, the stronger the message within our democratic system is."

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, accompanied by his wife Mary in Cork, said it would be a competitive election in every constituency, adding: "Every vote counts and I would urge people to come out and vote."

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore voted in his Dun Laoghaire constituency with his daughter Grainne.

Opinion polls have put Fine Gael well in the lead to head the next government, securing as much as 40% of the popular vote - potentially allowing for a single-party government propped up by independents.

Sinn Fein, which stands to gain seats for its outspoken opposition to government cuts and the controversial bailout from the International Monetary Fund and Europe, claimed the party would put "real political backbone" into the Dail.

Meanwhile, the Greens, the outgoing junior coalition party, claim they are fighting for the last seat in five Dublin constituencies and in Louth, Carlow-Kilkenny, Galway West and Cork South Central.

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