Who are the candidates vying for the presidency?

Four men and two women are in the mix for next month’s presidential election. Rebecca Black looks at their lives and careers as they embark on their election campaigns Michael D Higgins.

Who are the candidates vying for the presidency?

Four men and two women are in the mix for next month’s presidential election. Rebecca Black looks at their lives and careers as they embark on their election campaigns, Michael D Higgins.

Michael D Higgins

The sitting President, aged 77, was born in Limerick and had an academic career in the 1960s-70s, teaching sociology in Ireland and the United States.

He entered the political arena in the late 1960s, joining the Labour Party, and served as a senator in the 1980s before representing Galway West in the Dáil from 1987 to 2011.

Mr Higgins is a fluent Irish speaker and served as minister for arts, culture and the Gaeltacht in the 1990s. He is also a published poet and has presented TV documentaries.

Mr Higgins was first elected president in 2011 after running as a Labour candidate. He made history in 2014 when he became the first Irish President to undertake an official State visit to Britain.

Earlier this year, he welcomed Pope Francis to Ireland — the first papal visit in almost 40 years.

As the current President, Mr Higgins is able to nominate himself as an independent candidate for another seven years in office. However, he has secured the backing of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, and Labour, who agreed not to field candidates from their own parties.

Joan Freeman

The independent member of the Seanad is a psychologist and mental health activist from Dublin.

Ms Freeman has served on the Seanad since May 2016 after being nominated by the then Taoiseach, Enda Kenny. She is the chairwoman of the committee on mental health.

The 60-year-old founded Pieta House, a suicide intervention charity, in 2006, in Lucan, Co Dublin. It now boasts 12 additional centres around Ireland. Ms Freeman also founded the annual fundraising event Darkness into Light in aid of Pieta House. The event began with 400 participants in 2008 and has since grown with approximately 200,000 people participating in the 2018 events held across Ireland, including at the Phoenix Park.

She resigned from Pieta House in 2014, in order to concentrate on developing Solace House, a similar charity based in New York City and launched in 2015.

Ms Freeman will run as an independent candidate. She earned the backing of Galway City Council as well as Galway County, Fingal, and Cork County councils.

Sean Gallagher

The 56-year-old businessman and former Dragons’ Den star from Ballyhaise, Co Cavan, finished second in the 2011 Irish presidential election. He secured more than half a million first preference votes, but lost out to Mr Higgins.

Mr Gallagher has described himself as coming from the “Fianna Fáil gene pool”, but is running as an independent.

In 2002 he co-founded Smarthomes, a home technology business. The company won numerous awards for innovation, and Mr Gallagher was a finalist in the 2006 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year contest.

Mr Gallagher became a public figure during his time as an investor on RTÉ One’s Dragons’ Den from 2008 to 2011.

Last year, the State broadcaster, RTÉ apologised to Mr Gallagher over a fake tweet read out during a live TV debate during the last election campaign. The tweet, which accused Mr Gallagher of collecting funds for Fianna Fáil, was purported to be from an official account linked to the late Martin McGuinness, who also ran for president in 2011. However, it later emerged the account was not the official campaign account of the Sinn Féin candidate.

Mr Gallagher had been leading some opinion polls in the 2011 race prior to the tweet furore in the closing stages of the campaign.

This time around, Mr Gallagher won the backing of Roscommon, Mayo, Leitrim, and Wexford councils, and was the first independent candidate to secure a nomination.

Gavin Duffy

The entrepreneur and businessman from Sallins, Co Kildare, is best known for his role on RTÉ’s Dragons’ Den.

Mr Duffy, 58, started his career as a shareholder in radio stations, and in 1992 he co-founded a media and management consultancy. He previously held shares in HRM, one of Ireland’s largest recruitment companies.

His early career in the media included presenting the first RTÉ television business programme, Marketplace; broadcasting on Morning Ireland on RTÉ Radio One; and founding regional radio station LMFM.

Later, Mr Duffy became a serial entrepreneur and is now a veteran of more than 40 start-ups. His venture capital portfolio has been concentrated on recruitment, professional development, education, and media.

He has been a panellist on Dragons’ Den for all eight seasons since the show began in 2009.

Mr Duffy has worked in the past as an adviser to both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

He has said he would accept the full presidential salary of €350,000. The current President, Michael D Higgins, has voluntarily reduced his own salary to less than €250,000 while in office.

Mr Duffy will run as an independent candidate after securing his nomination by winning the backing of Waterford, Meath, Carlow, and Wicklow councils.

Peter Casey

Derry-born businessman Peter Casey became the third star of RTÉ’s Dragons’ Den to secure the support of four councils to run for President.

The 60-year-old is the founder of the recruitment firm, Claddagh Resources.

Mr Casey set up his business in 1995 in Atlanta. It operates from five locations across the world, including its European base in Buncrana, Co Donegal.

He lives in the US with his wife Helen and their five children but regularly returns to Ireland.

Mr Casey studied business administration, politics, and economics at Aston University in Birmingham before starting his career by joining Rank Xerox UK as a sales representative in 1979.

He has mooted an entrance to politics in the past. In 2015 he indicated he was considering running for Dáil Éireann and attempted to be elected to Seanad Éireann as part of the Industrial and Commercial Panel in 2016.

He has written a number of opinion pieces in newspapers and also wrote a book about the history of the Tata Group which was published in 2014.

Speaking about his campaign to be President, Mr Casey said he is not running to lose and is prepared to spend up to €750,000.

He is the third Dragons’ Den entrepreneur to seek a nomination after Sean Gallagher and Gavin Duffy.

Mr Casey won nominations from Limerick City and County Council, Tipperary County Council, Clare County Council, and Kerry County Council.

Liadh Ní Riada

Liadh Ní Riada was unveiled as Sinn Féin’s chosen candidate on Sunday. She was the hot favourite for the nomination ever since the party signalled its intent to run.

The former television producer from Dublin from Cúil Aodha, Co Cork, is the daughter of legendary Irish traditional musician and composer Seán Ó Riada.

Ms Ní Riada entered the political arena in 2011 by joining Sinn Féin.

The married mother of three daughters was elected in 2014 as one of her party’s four MEPs on the island of Ireland, representing the South constituency.

The 51-year-old is the youngest of the six candidates and one of two women in the race.

She has faced considerable adversity in her personal life, losing both parents at an early age. Her first husband also died when she was in her 20s.

In the European Parliament, Ms Ní Riada has been a vocal advocate for the Irish fishing industry, and critical of the Common Fisheries Policy, arguing the Irish have not received their fair share of the fishing quota.

Before her political career, she served on the board tasked with setting up Ireland’s Irish language television channel, TG4. She also worked as a producer for state broadcaster RTÉ. She ran her own production company for several years, and has been an advocate of the Irish language. Ms Ní Riada currently lives in the Muskerry Gaeltacht.

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