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Madame President: Women Dominate Irish Presidential Race

Antinuclear activist and Christian singer are on list for Ireland's Oct. 30 vote.

Ireland's election of a new president Oct. 30 is already historic: Four out of five candidates are women and no previous presidential contest has seen more than three people on the ballot.

The poll was called when the enormously popular Mary Robinson - who helped pave the way for women candidates - stepped down from her seven-year term a few months early to become the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Her exit led to some unusual nominations.

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The main political parties were unable to put forward their expected choice, Northern Ireland politician John Hume, who decided not to run. Instead the country's largest political party, Fianna Fil, chose law professor Mary McAleese, who leads in the polls.

A Catholic from Northern Ireland, her childhood home was often attacked by loyalists, and she supports the concept of a united Ireland. But her views are complex: While an opponent of divorce and abortion, she has championed the causes of gay rights and married priests.

The Labour Party, which backed Robinson's campaign in 1990, this time nominated antinuclear campaigner Adi Roche, known for working with children affected by contamination from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. However, her campaign has faltered in an unseemly row with disillusioned former members of her charity.

The only candidate with a political record is Mary Banotti, who has been a member of the European Parliament for 13 years. Again, history was made with the selection of this liberal grandniece of Michael Collins, the revolutionary hero of the struggle to end British rule in Ireland. After obtaining a divorce in Italy from her Italian husband, Ms. Banotti established her political career at a time when divorce was outlawed in Ireland.

These establishment candidates, however, are being challenged by two independents, neither of whom is seen as likely to win.

Rosemary Scallan, a Christian singer better known by her stage name, Dana, is a particular favorite of Pope John Paul II. For the last few years, she has been working with a Christian television station in the United States. Her decision to return to Ireland to run for the presidency has met with some derision.

The only male in the election, retired policeman Derek Nally, built a reputation as the founder of a support group for victims of crime. With the four female candidates getting much of the media attention, Mr. Nally has said he is "far from being a token man" in the contest.

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The election highlights many of the contradictions of modern Ireland. It has the fastest-growing economy in Europe. But it is also a country that only two years ago narrowly approved introduction of the right of separated people to remarry. The referendum passed by a margin of less than 1 percent.

It remains to be seen which candidate will become Ireland's eighth president. The president appoints the prime minister and has the ability to dissolve parliament, but the post is largely ceremonial.

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