Irish urged to reject ’dirty tricks’ in presidential vote

Irish urged to reject ’dirty tricks’ in presidential vote
# 27 October 2011 18:53 (UTC +04:00)
Baku-APA. Irish electors voted for a new president Thursday, with frontrunner Sean Gallagher urging them to reject what he called a "dirty tricks" campaign mounted by former IRA commander Martin McGuinness, APA reports quoting AFP.

More than 3.1 million adults were entitled to vote, with the winner handed the ceremonial role of representing Ireland around the world as the republic tries to overcome economic woes and the shackles of an international bailout.

The final opinion polls at the weekend showed Gallagher, a businessman turned television personality who is standing as an independent, with a clear lead on 40 percent, but his standing is threatened by a row over party donations.

McGuinness, the former paramilitary who became Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister, alleged in a potentially game-changing TV debate that Gallagher had collected a donation for his former party from a convicted fuel smuggler.

Gallagher accused McGuinness of orchestrating a "hatchet job" over the allegations surrounding the 5,000-euro ($6,950) cheque paid to the Fianna Fail party, which lost heavily in February’s general election.

Leading bookmaker Paddy Power predicted that the claims had had a disastrous effect on Gallagher, and installed Michael D. Higgins, a poet and former arts minister, as the new favourite.

Higgins, representing Labour, the junior coalition partners, had been polling just 25 percent on Monday.

The 70-year-old told AFP at one of his final campaign stops in Carlow, southeast Ireland, that he had seen a "huge surge in support" in recent days.

Gallagher has spent the week angrily denying he collected the cheque, and stressed that Ireland needed "hope and leadership, not bickering and backbiting" as it seeks to escape a deep economic hole.

"We have run a clean, positive campaign," he said as he voted in Blackrock on the northeast coast.

"It’s been a tough 72 hours but it’s unfortunate what the campaign ended up being about in the last couple of days," he said.

Although McGuinness was on just 15 percent, his considerable impact on the campaign could be felt in the Irish Independent newspaper, which on election day urged voters to shun him.

It said McGuinness had "failed to be in any way honest with the electorate he wishes to represent and therefore does not deserve an endorsement at the ballot box".

The paper accused McGuinness of lying about his role in the Irish Republican Army and said he had been "consistently ambiguous in his condemnation of atrocities carried out by the Provisional IRA" in the three decades of strife in Northern Ireland.

Polling stations opened at 7:00 am (0600 GMT) and were to close at 10:00 pm (2100 GMT).

Seven candidates are standing, the largest ever field, to succeed Belfast-born Mary McAleese after her two full seven-year terms.

Among the other runners, independent senator David Norris, the first openly gay candidate, was on eight percent in the opinion polls, and Gabriel Mitchell, a European Parliament lawmaker for Fine Gael, the senior governing coalition party, on six percent.

Two other independents, Mary Davis and 1970 Eurovision Song Contest winner Dana Rosemary Scallon, were locked at three percent.

The holder of the seven-year post is responsible for receiving foreign heads of state and making visits abroad to promote Irish interests and strengthen links with the huge Irish diaspora.

The ballot boxes will be opened on Friday, though the result will probably not be known before Saturday due to the complexities of the voting system.

The single transferable vote system is used, whereby voters rank their choices. Candidates are eliminated one by one and their votes redistributed until one has an absolute majority.