15 Oct 2011

Ireland’s colourful presidential candidates

A former member of the IRA, a gay rights activist and a Eurovision song contest winner – Carl Dinnen looks at some of the colourful candidates hoping to become the next President of Ireland.

The polls open at the end of the month for a campaign that has already had its fair share of drama. Never have so many candidates pursued the Irish Presidency.

Some previous contests have had only one candidate; voters spared the burden of a trip to the polls. Not this time. This time there are seven contenders.

One of the candidates is in fact a Westminster MP (although Martin McGuinness doesn’t take his seat there). We caught up with him in Bluebell, Dublin, the kind of working class area where Sinn Fein does well.

But the ghosts of the past are never far behind the former IRA commander. In spite of being a very sure footed candidate. He has been confronted repeatedly by the media but also by the son of a murdered Irish soldier.

But McGuinness says voters also know him as a peacemaker.

Another candidate from Derry who made her name in the 70s is Dana (pictured, on the right), she won the Eurovision Song Contest.

She looks less likely to win this, troubled as she has been by newspaper allegations and the revelation that 12 years ago she became an American citizen.

Dana: campaigning to be President of Ireland (Image:Getty)

So a bit like the Queen, perhaps, only elected. Her visit in the summer was the high point of Mary MacAleese’s Presidency.

Martin McGuinness, incidentally refused to take part but said he would meet the Queen if elected.

The seven candidates are a mixed bunch: the earnest Sean Gallagher made his name on Dragon’s Den.

The joker in the pack is David Norris; James Joyce scholar, Gay rights activist and raconteur. Norris pulled out of the contest when it emerged he’d pleaded for clemency for a former lover convicted of having sex with an underage boy.

But Norris rejoined the race and set the pace early on.

If elected Norris would be the first openly gay head of state in the world.

But for now the man to beat is Michael D Higgins. Michael D as he’s known has already been immortalised in song by The Saw Doctors

The 70 year old poet and politician has escaped the worst of the mudslinging, but doesn’t care for it.

And who has been most convincing about that, Irish voters have two weeks left to decide.