After possibly one of the most controversial election races in Irish history, voters will go to the polls this coming Thursday October 27, to elect the ninth president of Ireland.
Questions raised, accusations hurled, and family secrets exposed, the campaign trail has been lively with few of the seven candidates left unscathed.
“You wouldn't believe it if you saw it in a movie!” says Queens resident Nuala Delaney, who has been following the race closely.
“Between the sex abuse of Dana's niece, David Norris's various boyfriends and his comments about child molestation, comments about Martin McGuinness' involvement in the Troubles, Gay Mitchell distancing himself from Fianna Fail at every chance, it’s been crazy,” Delaney added.
“Mary Davis was great for a while because she worked on the Special Olympics but it turned out that she was involved in all sorts of quangos; Michael D. is a bit of a laughing stock and then, just when you thought it was over, it comes out that Sean Gallagher, the latest golden boy, is accused of receiving payments on behalf of Fianna Fail. You just can't make this stuff up.”
In the closing days of the race, the Labor Party’s Michael D. Higgins is the favorite to win – at least if the wishes of emigrants abroad are anything to go by. Higgins topped a virtual vote by Irish emigrants on BallotBox.ie.
Following almost one week of voting, over 2,500 people took part in the online election which served as a symbolic poll in the place of a real vote, which Irish emigrants are denied.
“The fact that Fianna Fail chose not to back a candidate, that's pretty amazing in and of itself,” added Delaney, originally from Dublin.
Emmet Galvin, who has been living in New York for the past eight months, says the incoming president has an important role to play in Ireland’s recovery.
“I think that this is one of the few times where the presidential office will be looked upon as more than ceremonial,” he said.
“The Irish people will hope the new president can play an active role in leading the country out of recession by way of establishing new trade links and by spearheading new finance and employment initiatives.”
The Irish president plays a largely ceremonial role as the head of state and does not have an executive or policy role. According to the Constitution he or she takes “precedence over all other persons in the state.”
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Orla Hennessy from Cork is currently traveling in the U.S. and as a result she cannot vote in the election. However, she says for her it’s a difficult choice.
“I would probably go for Higgins,” she admits.
“The whole Sean Gallagher candidacy seems a bit weird to me,” she said, referring to the independent candidate who topped the polls over the weekend.
“People recognize him from the TV,” Hennessy suggested.
Gallagher, a successful businessman, was once was a judge of the Irish reality TV show Dragon’s Den. A previous supporter of Fianna Fail, he was accused by Martin McGuinness of being “up to his neck in Fianna Fail” during one of the closing presidential debates.
Founded by Irish emigrants, the organizers of BallotBox.ie said on Tuesday that they had received an overwhelming response from Irish emigrants throughout the world who logged on and cast a symbolic vote in the presidential election.
Current Irish law doesn’t cater for Irish citizens residing abroad to cast a vote. In response to this, BallotBox.ie was founded in the run up to the Irish general election to offer Irish emigrants a symbolic vote.
Voters from over 97 countries took part, with the U.K,. the U.S, Australia, Canada, and Germany providing the most votes. Other votes came from Estonia, Malawi, Nicaragua, and El Salvador.
Some 2,581 Irish emigrants logged on over the six-day period to cast their virtual vote. IP technology and passport information was used to block voters in Ireland.
Higgins came out on top and polled at 40 percent of the first preference vote. Senator David Norris came in second with 24%, followed by Sinn Fein's McGuinness in third with 18%. Gallagher finished fifth with 10% while both Fine Gael's Mitchell and independent Davis came in with 3%. Dana Rosemary Scallon came in with just 1% of the vote.
“We are just happy to have the support and to realize we are not the only Irish citizens who are missing polling day,” co-founder Brian Reynolds told the Irish Voice.
Ballotbox.ie advocates a change in the law so that recent emigrants who have been resident in Ireland within the past five, 10, or 15 years retain their vote.