Gay activist, ex-IRA man and pop star seek Irish presidency

28th September 2011, Comments 0 comments

A gay rights activist, a former IRA commander and a Eurovision song contest winner are among a colourful line up battling for the Irish presidency after nominations for the post closed on Wednesday.

David Norris, a senator and long-time champion of gay rights, succeeded late Tuesday in securing the nominations needed to contest the October 27 vote for the largely ceremonial job of head of state.

He will be one of a record seven candidates, with the others including Martin McGuinness, a former leading member of the IRA turned deputy first minister of the British province of Northern Ireland.

Another independent candidate, former MEP and 1970 Eurovision song contest winner Dana Rosemary Scallon, said she was "just thrilled" after she also secured the necessary backing of councils on Tuesday.

Nominations closed at 1100 GMT on Wednesday and the seven candidates took part in a live debate on state broadcaster RTE soon afterwards.

Norris -- also a leading scholar of the Irish novelist James Joyce -- had abandoned his bid to become the country's first gay president last month after controversy about a statutory rape case involving a former lover.

It emerged that he wrote to the Israeli authorities pleading for clemency for his former partner Ezra Yitzhak, who was accused of the statutory rape of a 15-year-old Palestinian boy in 1992.

Yitzhak pleaded guilty to the charge and was convicted in 1997.

But in a stunning turnaround, Norris re-launched his campaign earlier this month saying it "would be the biggest comeback in Irish political history".

After he secured on Tuesday the backing of the four local councils he needed to get on the ballot, he tweeted, "Many many thanks to the councillors of Dublin City Council! I have secured the last nomination needed!

"I am looking forward to the campaign!"

Under Ireland's constitution, those seeking to succeed Mary McAleese as president need either the backing of 20 parliamentarians or four councils to get on the ballot paper.

Norris led an opinion poll published on Sunday with 21 percent of the vote, with McGuinness, the republican Sinn Fein party's first ever candidate for the presidency of Ireland, in third place.

© 2011 AFP

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