Same-sex marriage vote on knife edge as people flock to polling stations
The result of the same-sex marriage referendum in the Republic was on a knife edge last night as voters flocked to polling stations in their droves to have their say in the historic vote.
Both sides were reluctant to claim an early victory, but campaigners for a Yes vote were quietly confident that the high turnout - especially among young voters and in urban areas - gave them a good advantage before ballots were counted.
Turnout for the world-first vote on legalising same-sex marriage was expected to reach around 60% in cities and about 50% in rural areas before voting closed.
Traditionally, referendum turnouts are low - such as the vote to abolish the Irish Seanad, which saw fewer than 40% of the electorate take to the ballot box.
However, there were reports of queues outside polling stations in various parts of the country from 7am yesterday, which campaigners in both camps said was evidence of the huge public engagement on the divisive issue.
The watchword of the day was 'brisk', which is poll-speak for busy.
A higher than expected youth vote will impact on the final count, as thousands of young people who never voted before made their way to polling stations.
In total, 66,000 people were added to the supplementary register to vote in the referendum.
Social media campaigns - and an unprecedented number of people returning home to Ireland to vote in the referendum - means the final decision will be carried by a significant mandate.
The Republic's openly gay Health Minister Leo Varadkar spoke after casting his vote.
"The turnout is higher than usual, which is encouraging, but you never know what people have said until the little bits of paper fall out of the ballot box," he said cautiously.
He said he was struck by the number of citizens who had returned from overseas to take part.
"I know people who have cut short their holidays, or come back in the middle of their holidays from America and Mozambique to cast their votes.
"This hasn't been an ordinary referendum, it's been something of a social movement," he said.
"I've been out on the campaign with so many first-time canvassers, and many gay men and women who until now kept themselves to themselves but have decided to call to everyone on their estate. I've never seen that before," he added.
"It's a big moment, I think".
Gay activist Rory O'Neill returned from England to vote.
He became part of the campaign when he delivered an impassioned speech on the issue in his character of Panti Bliss on stage in Dublin that attracted international attention.
He said he believed the referendum would change the law because people were ready for it.
"But there's a narrative that this has been a top-down campaign, as if it's been driven by the Government or whatever.
"I think that's absolute rubbish - it's the epitome of a grassroots campaign that started 40 years ago with a tiny number of individuals who got more and more people on their side and changed minds, making small advances. It has just intensified in recent months," he said.
The No voters were also out in force.
Rachael Stanley (60) said she voted 'No' and felt "strongly about it".
"This is about children. It's far too radical a step. I want to protect marriage and the stability of children," she said.
"I hope I don't get tarred and feathered for saying that," she added.
Fine Gael director of election and Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney, who campaigned for a Yes vote, said he was taking nothing for granted but was heartened by the high turnout.
"My sense is that a good urban turnout has to be positive for the Yes side and reports of lots of young people voting is very positive as well.
"We are not getting carried away, but we are very hopeful given the activity we have seen today," Mr Coveney said.
"I am hoping we get a clear result and we are not scraping over the line, but I am not going to be so presumptuous to say it is a success," he added.