It’s all over bar the voting – and the wannabe leaders have led the way in the 2011 General Election.
Fine Gael’s Taoiseach elect Enda Kenny, Labour’s Eamon Gilmore and Fianna Fail’s Micheal Martin have all cast their vote.
The three main party leaders were up and out early as polling stations opened at more than 6,000 locations across the country at 7am Irish time.
A total of just more than 3.2million voters have until 10pm Irish time to cast their votes in the 43 constituencies as the nation elects 165 members of the 31st Dail.
Outgoing Ceann Comhairle Seamus Kirk is guaranteed his seat and is automatically returned as the 166th TD.
Kirk’s Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin voted just before 9.30am at the polling station at St Anthony’s Boys School in Ballinlough in his native Cork.
“Every vote counts and I would urge people to come out and vote,” said Martin.
Fine Gael leader Kenny was also on home soil when he was accompanied to the polling station at St Patrick’s National School in Castlebar by his wife Fionnuala and eldest daughter Aoibhinn.
“I hope that as many people as possible, all over the country, go and cast their vote today,” said Kenny as Fine Gael prepares to become the biggest party in the Dail for the first time in the history of the State.
Labour leader Eamon Gilmore voted at Scoil Mhuire in Shankill while President Mary McAleese and her husband Martin cast their votes at St Mary’s Hospital in the Phoenix Park.
Green Party leader John Gormley voted with his wife Penny Stuart in Ringsend and Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams voted at Doolargy National School in Co Louth.
Early indications suggest a strong turn-out across the country with mild weather conditions likely to encourage voters to get out and exercise their democratic right.
Labour Party candidate John Gilroy is looking to take home the bacon on the double today when he goes before voters in the Cork North Central constituency.
Gilroy, a local councilor, provided a nice turn of pace yesterday to help catch a loose Vietnamese pot-bellied pig as he mounted his final campaign pre-election.
The pig was running a-muck (get it?) on the streets near the Crestfield Shopping Centre when Gilroy came to the rescue. “I thought they were winding me up at first because you wouldn’t normally see one of them running around a busy urban area,” Gilroy told the Examiner.
But a few minutes later myself and my canvass team spotted him wandering towards an area where there were a number of children playing.
“We decided we’d better catch him as he could cause a traffic accident, or if he got spooked he could run into the children. He could have caused a bit of damage as I reckon he weighed about 20 stone. He was a fierce fat fella.”
It took Gilroy and his Labour Party colleagues half an hour to persuade the pig to go into a local garden – persuading the electorate to cook Fianna Fail’s goose today may be slightly easier.
An Aran Islands campaigner wants off-sea votes to be cast on the same day as the rest of the country – after again claiming he is treated as a second class citizen when it comes to election time.
Seamus ‘Jamesie’ O Flatharta is confident his bid to allow the islanders off the west and south Coasts vote at the same time will finally come to fruition after the 2011 election.
The 2,500 islanders cast their votes on Wednesday and Thursday but O Flaharta wants to be treated the same as everyone else within the 3.2million electorate.
“I’m a second-class citizen. It’s as simple as that,” he told the Irish Independent.
“I’ve been on about this for years and it’s a disgrace. Middle-aged men in Dublin are telling me I should vote on a different day to almost everyone else in the country.
“Anything could happen in the time between me voting and the rest of the country and I might want to change my mind. It’s all right for people on the mainland.
“It is my wish that before I’m laid to rest, I will see it change.”
The political hacks, those who have spent the last three weeks on the campaign trail, have a sweep going on the outcome of this General Election according to Deaglan de Breadun of the Irish Times.
Mindful of the current economic recession, the various journos have laid just five Euro a head on the make-up of the next Dail.
According to the Irish Times columnist, the political press expect Fine Gael to end up with just over 80 seats and lead the next government.
De Breadun’s own predictions are FG- 82; Lab -35; FF – 25 (including Ceann Comhairle); SF – 12; GP – O; Independent/Others: 12.
Interestingly, de Breadun’s predictions would allow Fine Gael to lead a single-party government with the support of Independents and, crucially, without Labour as coalition partners.
Even the RubberBandits are getting on the election vibe as they prepare to take the country’s music charts by storm again.
Fresh from the incredible success of their YouTube sensation ‘Horse Outside’, the Limerick funksters have just released their second single.
‘I Want To Fight Your Father’ is described as a good, old fashioned Limerick love song by the plastic bag duo.
And speaking to 3,000 students at Dublin’s Bolton Street college on the eve of the election, they too jumped on the political bandwagon.
“This ditty is designed to show love conquers all in these turbulent electoral times,” said the Bandits.
We’ll wait and see if it does but they do have more chance of topping the polls than most candidates in this election.
God bless the trier – Green Party leader John Gormley went to the polls on Friday convinced that the outgoing junior government party have a role to play in the new Dail.
The opinion polls state otherwise and Gormley faces a major battle to hold onto his seat but he did try to sound optimistic ahead of polling.
Whilst admitting that Fine Gael and Labour are ‘home and dry’ as the two big winners of this election, Gormley urged voters to think Green despite their desperate dalliance with Fianna Fail. He may struggle to find an audience.
Gormley has also insisted that he will not walk out on the Greens if he loses his seat in Dublin South-East.
Angry bosses at TV3 have called on the new government to instantly renege on a last minute deal signed off by outgoing Communications Minister Pat Carey.
TV3, the independently owned station, is furious that Carey has given the state run RTE permission to launch five new digital TV channels in his last act in office
The station, which relies on advertising to stay alive, say Carey’s actions threaten jobs and growth in the media industry and want the new government to cancel it as soon as they get into power.
Who’d be a politician? A Fianna Fail candidate got nowhere when he tried to organize transport to the polling station for a female constituent suffering with Alzeihemer’s Disease.
The woman’s husband was having none of it when the offer was made and retorted: “You didn’t contact me for 3 years when she was sick so you can f***off now.”
The Irish Examiner has just printed its awards for the best and most original posters of the 2011 General Election campaign – from those looking for votes and those voting but the best line of all was the name of the column - ‘Never Mind The Ballots’.
Friday morning’s Star and Sun newspapers both urged voters to ‘Kick Them In The Ballots’.
Fine Gael are so confident that they will indeed lead the next Government that they have already enlisted former president of the European Parliament Pat Cox to help them prepare for their first 100 days in office.