Confidence grows for yes side as voters come home but Leo will 'take nothing for granted'
Campaigners for a Yes vote in the referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment restricting abortion were last night confident they have won enough support to secure victory today.
However, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said they are "taking absolutely nothing for granted".
More than 3.2 million people are entitled to make their voices heard on arguably the most contentious social issue in Ireland.
The country is being asked to make a "once in a generation" decision, as senior politicians have ruled out a re-run if the proposal to allow the Oireachtas to legislate is rejected.
Met Eireann predicts a generally sunny day across the country, which should encourage a large turnout.
Some 120,000 have added their name to the supplementary voting register in recent weeks and thousands of people have travelled home from abroad to cast their votes.
Meanwhile, many of the 2,000 residents of 12 Atlantic islands off the mainland began filling in referendum ballot papers yesterday.
"This is the moment so many people have waited so long for, an opportunity to face reality and support women in our country," Health Minister Simon Harris told the Herald.
However, Save The 8th's John McGuirk said people must decide "whether or not we're going to have a liberal abortion regime in Ireland".
He added that the key to a No victory will be older voters, but questioned if they had enough support to emerge victorious.
"Whether they vote in large enough numbers to help us win the referendum is an open question," he said.
He also admitted that some people who might be viewed as conservative on the issue will vote for repeal as a "screw you" to the Catholic Church.
The question being asked of voters is whether they want to repeal a section of the Constitution which gives equal rights to mothers and unborn children.
A Yes vote result will clear the way for the Government to bring forward legislation that permits terminations up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy.
Mr Harris has promised that abortions will only be granted after the first trimester if there is a risk to the life or of serious harm to the health of a pregnant woman.
As campaigning drew to a close, Fianna Fail TD Mary Butler, who is part of the Love Both group, reiterated her belief that the Government has "cynically used the tragedies of certain people to push through the most extreme abortion law ever proposed in this country by any Irish government".
More than 2,000 people living off the coasts of Galway, Mayo and Donegal had their opportunity to vote yesterday.
The islands vote a day early in order to allow ballot boxes to make it back to the mainland for tomorrow's count.
Gardai were last night escorting boxes to local court offices in each constituency. They were due to be transferred to individual count centres in the early hours of this morning, before polls opened at 7am.
Mr Varadkar said if there is a Yes vote, Ireland "will still be the same country as it is today".
He added: "Of course, we know when it comes to referendums in the past, like the divorce referendum, that went down to less than 10,000 votes, one ballot paper in every ballot box. We urge everyone to vote and vote Yes.
"Opinion polls have been wrong before. I am conscious that in 1983, there was only a turnout of 55pc. Most people decided to sit out.
"I hope that won't happen on this occasion, and I am really encouraging everyone to come out and vote."
The Government intends to enact legislation on abortion by the end of the year if there is a Yes vote.
However, its passage may be obstructed if enough TDs vote against it.
The Taoiseach said the Cabinet will publish the Bill before the Dail breaks up this summer and allow for debates and voting before the end of the year.
"We anticipate having the legislation published before the summer recess and having it through the Dail and Seanad and enacted by the end of the year," Mr Varadkar said.
Speaking at the final event of the Fine Gael members' campaign ahead of the country going to the polls, Mr Varadkar said that all members of the Oireachtas should vote in favour of the legislation, even those opposed to it, because they will be under obligation to implement the will of the Irish people.
"I hope and trust the vast majority of TDs will respect the decision of the Irish people if it is a Yes vote," he said.
There could still be stumbling blocks ahead for legislation.
The majority of Fianna Fail TDs are against repealing the Eighth Amendment, and many may vote accordingly.
Among those backing a No vote was The Corrs musician Jim Corr, who claimed: "It's really about bringing the lucrative abortion industry into Ireland."