The first votes have been cast on whether to liberalise Ireland’s strict abortion rules.
Many of the 2,000 residents of 12 Atlantic islands off the mainland began filling in referendum ballot papers on Thursday.
The poll is on repealing the Eighth Amendment of the constitution which prevents the Irish Government from legalising terminations except where a mother’s life is endangered and which has divided opinion for decades.
If people vote Yes, the Government intends to allow the procedure within the first 12 weeks, subject to medical advice and a cooling-off period, and between 12 and 24 weeks in exceptional circumstances.
Around 2,000 residents on tiny islands off Counties Donegal, Mayo and Galway were eligible to cast their ballots in polling stations including makeshift ones in people’s homes on Thursday.
They were received a day ahead of the rest of the country to avoid delays in getting them to count centres in time.
The rest of the country votes on Friday on whether to reform some of Europe’s strictest laws.
Thousands returned from around the world to make their voices heard, some from as far away as Asia and Latin America.
Ciaran Gaffney, 22, from Argentina said women should have complete bodily autonomy.
“I just think that we should not be exporting an issue like abortion to other countries and I think that we need to be responsible for taking charge of something that is happening in Ireland and will happen in Ireland irrespective of the vote.”
Aoife Bennett, 25, an editor with a travel magazine based in Dortmund, Germany, will be making the journey back to Dublin then returning in less than 24 hours.
She tweeted: “This is the most important referendum we may ever face. Of course I was coming home.”
We're almost there: tomorrow you will get a chance to have your say on how we treat women in crisis. The polls open at 7am and close at 10pm. Please #VoteYes #8thRef #hometovote pic.twitter.com/J9eEtKXDXb— Leo Varadkar (@LeoVaradkar) May 24, 2018
Thousands of Irish women seek terminations in Britain because they cannot do so in Ireland.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: “I hope that a Yes vote will help to lift that stigma and help to take away that legacy of shame that exists in our society.”
Among those backing a No vote was Corrs musician Jim Corr.
The 53-year-old, who found fame with his sisters Andrea, Sharon and Caroline in Irish folk-rock band the Corrs, claimed the vote was a means for the pharmaceutical industry to profiteer from abortion.
He tweeted: “As many were duped into believing the Lisbon Treaty would bring jobs and recovery, many are being duped into believing this referendum is about healthcare and choice, when it’s really about bringing the lucrative abortion industry into Ireland.”
Meanwhile, GPs advocating a No vote have claimed that asking doctors to carry out abortions without reason being offered cannot be described as healthcare.
More than 120 general practitioners opposed to repeal claimed Government proposals to liberalise Ireland’s termination laws would amount to “abortion on demand”.