And they’re off – voting is underway to elect the ninth President of Ireland from a record field of seven candidates.
Outgoing state leader Mary McAleese led the country to the polls as she cast her vote alongside husband Martin at a Phoenix Park polling station.
Just who will replace them as residents at the nearby Aras remains a mystery with the field too close to call after Monday night’s dramatic TV row between Martin McGuinness and Sean Gallagher.
Sinn Fein claims that independent candidate Gallagher acted as a bagman for Fianna Fail at a 2008 fundraiser continued to dominate the news headlines, even on polling day.
As Labor Party candidate Michael D Higgins prepared to take advantage of the potentially fatal blow to Gallagher’s hopes, the businessman at the centre of the allegations repeated his claims.
Armagh merchant Hugh Morgan, a convicted fuel smuggler, again maintained on Thursday morning that Gallagher had personally collected a near $8,000 check from him as a donation to Fianna Fail party funds three years ago.
Morgan released the photograph he had taken with then Prime Minister and FF leader Brian Cowen at the Dundalk fundraiser, a photo which Gallagher also delivered.
Gallagher however again insisted that he did not collect the cheque. “The fundraiser was no different from anybody who stands at a church gate collection or anybody who sells tickets or holds fundraising events,” claimed the Cavan man as he sought to restore his damaged reputation with voters.
“Everybody is doing the very best they can on the ground and it’s very much up to the people now,” added Gallagher as he wrapped up his campaign in his native county.
“We put in a good campaign, a very clean campaign, and a bit of distraction this week with negativity but we’re back on track today. There is no issue to be addressed. I stand over everything I’ve done.
“I apologise for any confusion. I wasn’t sure whether, could he have given me a cheque to pass on to Fianna Fail, it wouldn’t be a standard practice and I was unclear as to whether or not he gave me something.”
Businessman Morgan however later repeated his claims that Gallagher had contacted him twice in relation to his donation. He also released the stub of the check at the centre of the row.
Morgan claimed: “Sean Gallagher advised me that this type of fundraising would replace the annual Galway Tent Fundraiser. In return for the €5,000 donation I was promised a private audience with the Taoiseach and I would get a photograph taken with him.
“He told me that the Taoiseach would give an update on the economy in the South, which in his words was ‘beginning to wobble’.
“Brian Cowen gave a speech on the economy and predicted a soft landing. At the end of the night Sean Gallagher introduced me to Brian Cowen and facilitated a photograph to be taken of myself with him.”
The ongoing Gallagher-Morgan saga continued to dominate the airwaves as polling stations opened to a potential 3.1million votes at 7am. They will remain open until 10pm on Thursday night with counting to start on Friday and a result expected on Saturday.
New favourite Michael D Higgins wrapped up his bid with a declaration. “I am firing on all pistons, both intellectually and physically,” said seventy something Higgins.
Sinn Fein candidate McGuinness maintained: “I did a service to the Irish people with my interjection on Frontline on Monday night.”
Fellow candidates Mary Davis, Gay Mitchell, Dana Rosemary Scanlon and David Norris all put a brave face on it as they went to the country despite their poor standing in the opinion polls.
As the Irish go to the poll here are the candidate promotional videos. No videos were found for Dana Rosemary Scallon.
Michael D. Higgins – Labour Party promotional video –
Sinn Fein candidate, Martin McGuinness’ promotional video –Independent, Sean Gallagher’s promotional video –
Fine Gael’s candidate, Gay Mitchell promotional video –Independent candidate, David Norris’ final thoughts before the election – Independent candidate, Mary Davis’ final thoughts before the election –