Irish vote to scrap blasphemy – exit poll

Presidential candidates
Image caption Contesting the election are, clockwise from top left, Peter Casey, Gavin Duffy, Joan Freeman, Liadh Ni Riada, Michael D Higgins and Sean Gallagher

An exit poll has suggested the Republic of Ireland has voted to re-elect Michael D Higgins as president and scrap the country’s laws on blasphemy.

The poll showed 71% of voters surveyed indicated they voted yes to removing the reference to blasphemy from the Irish Constitution.

It also suggested Mr Higgins received 58% of first preference votes.

Counting began at 09:00 local time and the result, expected later on Saturday, will be announced at Dublin Castle.

Mr Higgins is the first incumbent in 50 years to face a challenge in his bid for a second term.

Businessman Peter Casey looks likely to come second, with the exit poll by Irish broadcaster RTÉ suggesting he has received the backing of 21% of voters – much higher than the final opinion polls of the campaign had predicted.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Peter Casey is a former Dragons’ Den investor

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald congratulated Mr Higgins on his anticipated win, but said she was disappointed with the predicted result.

“I would have liked to see us poll more strongly,” she said during an RTÉ interview.

Second-time presidential candidate Seán Gallagher tweeted his congratulations to Mr Higgins and said the most important part of the election was “an opportunity to speak in the ballot box”.

The RTÉ poll, conducted by Red C, also suggested about 2% of people who voted in the presidential ballot said they had not voted in the blasphemy referendum.

From the count

by Shane Harrison, BBC News NI Dublin Correspondent

The low turnout for this election and referendum is reflected by the lack of party supporters and tallies being done at count centres.

I didn’t see a single TD (member of the Irish parliament) at the National Convention Centre in Dublin.

But, Michael D Higgins’ backroom team are there and delighted with his expected landslide victory.

Reporters sipping coffees can be overheard talking amongst each other about the other narratives emerging from the election – the strong Peter Casey showing and poor Sinn Féin performance.

Turnout was reported to be low in many areas of the country.

The figures suggest it could be comparable to the last Presidential Election in 2011.

Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar has already congratulated Mr Higgins on his predicted win.

More than 3.2 million people are eligible to cast their ballots in the election and referendum.

Voters received two ballot papers at polling stations.

Image copyright RTÉ
Image caption Michael D Higgins and wife Sabina vote in Dublin

They were given a white ballot paper for the presidential election and a green ballot paper for the referendum on blasphemy.

Many were unaware there was such an offence until a member of the public referred controversial remarks made by the actor and writer Stephen Fry on an RTÉ programme to An Garda Siochana (Irish police).

Mr Fry spoke about what he regarded as God’s cruelty during the programme.

But the matter was dropped when gardai (police officers) could find no-one who was offended.

The last person to be prosecuted for blasphemy was in 1855 when the British ruled Ireland.

Presidential candidates

The president is Ireland’s “first citizen”, but has limited power – the role is mainly symbolic and he or she cannot get involved in daily politics.

In the presidential poll, Mr Higgins’ rivals include:

  • Liadh Ni Riada, the Sinn Féin MEP
  • Senator Joan Freeman, a campaigner on mental health issues and the founder of the charity Pieta House
  • Sean Gallagher, a businessman who was the runner-up seven years ago
  • Gavin Duffy, a former broadcaster who now works as a businessman in the communications industry
  • Peter Casey, a Londonderry-born businessman and who made his fortune abroad

The three businessmen were all “dragons” in the Irish version of the Dragons’ Den TV programme.

Image copyright RTÉ
Image caption Ballot boxes have begun to be opened

About 3,470 people were interviewed for RTÉ’s exit poll on a random basis outside 138 polling stations between 07:00 and 21.30 on Friday.

The poll suggests that businessman Peter Casey will get 20.7% of the first preference vote with Sinn Féin’s Liadh Ní Riada getting 7.4%, with 6.3% for Senator Joan Freeman.

The poll suggests businessman Seán Gallagher is on 5.5% and businessman Gavin Duffy on 2.0%.

The exit poll’s margin of error is between plus or minus 3%.

Image copyright RTÉ
Image caption Liadh Ní Riada with husband Nicky at their voting station in Cork

Polling stations opened at 07:00 local time and closed at 22:00.

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