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    Main Candidates in Ireland's 2018 Presidential Election: All You Need to Know

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    A total of six candidates are standing in Ireland’s hotly contested presidential election, including former reality television stars and a psychology, not to mention the current president.

    Ireland heads to the polls today for a much anticipated presidential election that will see five challengers face off with the incumbent — Michael D Higgins.

    While the president is designated as 'Ireland's first citizen' and the 'Supreme Commander of the Irish Defence Forces,' the title is largely a ceremonial one.

    ​Ireland's president has little executive authority, but does play a constitutional role in appointing leading government officials.

    The elections are to be held between 7am and 10pm on Friday, October 26, and counting is due to start on the morning of Sunday 27.

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    A referendum on removing the so-called offence of 'blasphemy' from the Irish constitution will also be held on the same day. According to reports, most citizens weren't even aware that such a constitutional clause exists.

    ​The referendum will ask the Irish public whether to remove the word "blasphemous" from Article 40 of the constitution, which reads: "the publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with the law."

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    Incumbent president Higgins, who is a popular figure and is expected to score a re-election by landslide, is being challenged by a group of five contenders, who are made up of a Member of the European Parliament (MEP), a senator and three judges from the well-known television program  'Dragon's Den.'

    So, who are all of candidates? 

    Michael D Higgins

    The incumbent Mr Higgins is a nationally lauded politician who has served as the president since 2011.

    Higgins has been widely regarded as brining an elderly and classical statesman like manner to the Irish presidential throne, earning him admiration even from the younger generations.

    He is also a published poet.

    Like most veteran politicians however, he hasn't always been received without controversy. In 2016 he was sniped at by the Irish media for praising the late Fidel Castro, calling his death a "great sadness." He has also been questioned over the repeated use of a private jet to shuttle between Dublin and Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland.

    Liadh Ní Riada

    Miss Riada is a renowned politician with the left-wing Irish republican party, Sinn Fein, and has been a European parliamentarian since 2014.

    ​Sinn Fein are the only Irish political party standing in the presidential election, as all other contenders are running on independent tickets. According to reports, other parties refused to run in an expression of solidarity and support for President Higgins.

    While much of Sinn Fein has thrown its support behind Miss Riada's bid, the 51-year-old has not come to the presidential competition without baggage. She recently came under fire after it was alleged that she had accumulated over €200,000 in "unaudited" expenses since being elected as an MEP.

    Peter Casey 

    Mr Casey, who has spent much time living in the United States, is a hugely successful Irish businessman, and a former host for the household television show Dragon's Den.

    Mr Casey is seen as a somewhat hawkish figure in the elections. He has called on numerous occasions for Ireland to abandon its state policy of neutrality and to subsequently ramp up defense spending. He has also said that Ireland should not totally reject the idea of leaving the European Union.

    Casey has been in the media's firing line on more than one occasion for his controversial remarks about incumbent president Higgins, including for a snipe at his dogs.

    Gavin Duffy

    Mr Duffy is a relatively obscure figure in the world of Irish politics.

    He is another businessman and former Dragon's Den host, and is known for advocating an increased Irish presence in overseas humanitarian work. 

    ​Duffy is most known for placing great focus on the need for Ireland to build upon its cyber and digital capabilities, often saying that the country could carve out a unique niche for itself in this area.

    He has however, not come to the political scene without controversy. He has been heavily fired upon by animal rights groups for heading up the Hunting Association of Ireland. 

    Sean Gallagher

    Mr Gallagher is an investment banker and businessmen who was also a panelist on Dragon's Den from 2009-2011.

    This will be Mr Gallagher's second time running for the presidency. He went for the gold before in 2011, but came second to now president Higgins.

    Since then, Gallagher dropped from the political radar only to resurface again seven years later. His sudden political reincarnation, coupled with a lack of involvement in Ireland's recent highly charged referendums on same sex marriage and abortion, has led many to the conclusion that his goals are purely self-interested rather than about the wider nation.

    Joan Freeman

    Miss Freeman — who is widely presented as the compassionate grandmotherly candidate — is a psychologist who has been an Irish senator since 2016.

    ​She is known for establishing a number of charities that deal with mental health issues, particularly one related to suicide prevention called 'Pieta House.' Throughout the campaign, Freeman has used her platform to call for major reforms to the Irish mental healthcare system, which is known to be in a dire condition. 

    Both the presidential election results and those of the referendum on the removal of blasphemy from the Irish constitution are to be announced on the evening of Saturday, October 27, at Dublin castle.     

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    presidential election, Presidential Election, Republic of Ireland, Belfast, Dublin, Ireland
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