Record number in bid for Irish presidency

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The Independent Online

The race to become Ireland's ninth president was under way in earnest today with a record seven candidates vying for the job.

Independent Senator David Norris and former Eurovision winner Dana Rosemary Scallon secured the backing of four local authorities yesterday to be formally nominated to stand in the election.



The pair will now go head to head on October 27 against Fine Gael's Gay Mitchell, Labour's Michael D Higgins, Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness and independent candidates Mary Davis and Sean Gallagher.



The final candidates to meet the midday deadline are:



* MEP Gay Mitchell - a former TD who stood for the leadership of Fine Gael in 2002 but lost out to now-Taoiseach Enda Kenny. A pro-life advocate, he has repeatedly sought clemency for convicted killers on death row in the United States;



* Labour Party president Michael D Higgins - an intellectual, poet and former government minister. The 70-year-old is known for campaigning against human rights abuses around the world;



* Martin McGuinness, who has temporarily stepped down as Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister to enter the race for the Aras. The former IRA commander wants voters to judge him for his crucial role in the peace process and not his past;



* Poll-topper David Norris, who is the first openly homosexual man to be elected to public office in Ireland. But the senator's campaign has been shrouded in controversy over clemency letters he wrote to Israeli authorities for an ex-partner convicted of statutory rape in the late 1990s;



* Mary Davis, who gained widespread acclaim for heading the 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Dublin and was later head of Special Olympics Europe. In 2004 she was appointed to the Council of State, a group of high-profile individuals tasked with advising the president on legislation;



* Entrepreneur Sean Gallagher - a star on Ireland's Dragons' Den. The former Fianna Fail member has also worked with charity, voluntary and community groups throughout the country. He is the only candidate who has opted not to hang election posters;



* Dana Rosemary Scallon, who won the 1970 Eurovision for Ireland, and a seat in the European Parliament for Connaught/Ulster in 1999. She also got the support of five county councils to run for the presidency in 1997, but finished third.



The seven candidates will be officially confirmed by a returning officer from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government at 3pm.



While Mr Mitchell, Mr Higgins and Mr McGuinness had the firm backing of their parties, the four independents needed to secure the signatures of 20 Oireachtas members or majority support of four county councils each.



Ms Davis and Mr Gallagher had local authority backing weeks ago with Dana voted in over the last two days.



But despite topping recent polls, and collecting as many as 18 signatures, Mr Norris was left struggling to secure council support.



After an 11th-hour scramble, he was finally given the nod by a fourth council, Dublin city, late last night.

PA

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