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.
President and Sabina Higgins have cast their votes in the Presidential elections and the referendum on the proposal to change the Constitution of Ireland in relation to the issue of blasphemy. #Aras18 pic.twitter.com/OKfLfnHikt— President of Ireland (@PresidentIRL) October 26, 2018
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.
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.
Less than seven hours to go to vote Yes to remove the blasphemy law from our constitution. Polling stations close at 10 pm. The choice may be obvious, but make sure that you go out and make that choice. #BlasphemyRef pic.twitter.com/lZqKaPBiXN— Atheist Ireland (@atheistie) October 26, 2018
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."
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.
Vote Liadh Ní Riada No.1 today. You are the Changemakers!— Liadh Ní Riada MEP (@LiadhNiRiadaMEP) October 26, 2018
I stood with you when you took to the streets to demand an end to water charges & austerity & when tens of thousands demanded action on housing & homelessness. I will always stand with you. #Aras18 #LiadhForPresident pic.twitter.com/yhO2XS7SwD
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.
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.
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.
'I have put every effort into meeting and connecting with people across the country and give them a reason to give me their number 1 vote'🗳️. Meeting with thriving Irish communities can never be a waste of time #TonightVMT #Aras18 #GavinForPresident #AmbitiousforIreland pic.twitter.com/sotxlijqMN— Gavin Duffy (@GavinDuffy) October 24, 2018
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.
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.
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.