Belfast Telegraph

Voters casting presidential ballots

Voters across Ireland have been going to the polls to elect the country's ninth president.

A record seven candidates have been vying for support with the last 72 hours of the campaign marked by bitter claim and counter-claims involving leading contender Sean Gallagher.

The independent, who was a political fundraiser for the Fianna Fail party in 2008, has been attacked over claims he personally requested and collected a 5,000 euro cheque from a businessman for a meet-and-greet with then-taoiseach Brian Cowen.

He has also been under pressure over financial transactions in his businesses and despite him giving some explanations confusion remains over a directors' loan.

Other contenders are Labour Party veteran Michael D Higgins, installed as odds-on favourite on Wednesday, and Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness, who resigned as Northern Ireland's deputy first minister to run and led the charge against Mr Gallagher at the last live debate on Monday.

Next on the bookies list are Gay Mitchell - of the Government Fine Gael party but who has failed to garner support from his own political grassroots - and Senator David Norris, an independent, a former Trinity College Dublin professor and a Joycean scholar.

Former head of the Special Olympics in Ireland Mary Davis, who brought the world games to Croke Park in Dublin in 2003, and former Eurovision winner Dana Rosemary Scallon, a successful Christian singer in the US and a one-time eurosceptic MEP are expected to run towards the bottom of the poll.

About 3.1 million people are eligible to vote in the single transferable vote system, where the successful candidate needs 50% of the vote plus one.

Ireland's ninth president follows the respected 14-year two-terms held by Mary McAleese.

She leaves office on November 10 after a remarkable tenure marked by her "Building Bridges" theme and work on the peace process in Northern Ireland.

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