Irish voters went to the polls Thursday to elect a new president, with frontrunner and independent Sean Gallagher fighting off what he called "dirty tricks" by his opponents up until the last minute.
Polling stations were open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. local time, and more than 3.1 million people were eligible to vote. Ireland's presidency is largely a ceremonial role. Results are expected on Saturday morning.
Gallagher, a 49-year-old businessman, had a clear advantage over his six opponents with 40 percent support in the most recent opinion polls.
But Ireland uses a single transferable vote system, under which voters rank their choices. Candidates are eliminated and their votes are redistributed until a single candidate has an absolute majority, meaning the race could turn out to be much closer than it appears.
The Labour Party's Michael D. Higgins, a poet and former arts minister, was also high in the running.
In a heated television debate, Martin McGuinness, a former IRA commander and Northern Ireland's deputy first minister, accused Gallagher of collecting donations for his former party, Fianna Fail, from a convicted fuel smuggler.
Gallagher denied the accusations and called them "dirty tricks" aimed at boosting McGuinness' own candidacy.
McGuinness has been highly controversial, having worked for the militant Irish Republican Army, which waged a bloody decades-long campaign of bombings and shootings to end British rule in Northern Ireland.
The field of candidates, the biggest in Ireland's history, also includes independent senator and gay rights activist David Norris and 1970 Eurovision Song Contest winner Dana Rosemary Scallon.
Current President Mary McAleese has served two full seven-year terms.
Author: Andrew Bowen (AFP, dpa)
Editor: Martin Kuebler