Ready, Steady, Go! The real race for the Aras begins
Ireland's presidential X-Factor finally kicked off today as the seven candidates took part in their first live debate.
Nominations closed at noon and the real race for the Aras began with a debate on RTE Radio One's lunchtime News at One programme.
After securing the support of the required amount of county councils yesterday, David Norris and Dana Rosemary Scallon joined Fine Gael's Gay Mitchell, Labour's Michael D Higgins, Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness and independents Mary Davis and Sean Gallagher in the race to succeed Mary McAleese as head of state.
In a specially extended News at One, each candidate was interviewed by Sean O'Rourke for three minutes. There was then a round-table debate where each candidate was grilled on the particular attributes they would bring to the role.
The candidates will also appear on tonight's Prime Time, where they will be interviewed separately for 5-10 minutes. A panel of experts will then assess their performance.
The first live TV debate will take place on Friday night's Late, Late Show.
Voting takes place on Thursday 27 October.
The final candidates 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 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 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 gained widespread acclaim for heading up 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 is 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 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.