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'TV star, warlord, poet or gay crusader?'

THE world is watching to see who will win the battle of the reality star, warlord, left-wing poet and gay crusader.

They are just some of the phrases that the international press were using today to describe our presidential hopefuls. In a detailed analysis, Time magazine said it was 'the race to represent the soul of Ireland'.

Whoever is elected will "set the national tone for the most difficult economic period in Irish history -- one through which the demoralised nation needs a strong moral compass," said the magazine.

Writer Genevieve Carbery says the next president will have to fix a reputation "left in tatters by a financial meltdown".

Many of the international publications were focusing today on the presidential election's "colourful field".

"Irish voters waited on Friday for the results of an election that could hand the presidency to a reality TV star, a left-wing poet or a former IRA commander," according to Reuters Africa.

"Weeks of mud-slinging between the seven candidates vying for the largely ceremonial role have distracted Ireland from its financial crisis," it added.

And Sean Gallagher's envelope gaffe was also picked up overseas.

The New Zealand Herald wrote: "The result of today's Irish presidential election could hinge on one word -- envelope -- that has the potential to dash the hopes of the contest favourite."

The revelation that he collected a €5,000 cheque "from a convicted criminal" who attended a fundraiser for former Taoiseach Brian Cowen "could be a game changer", according to Time magazine.

France24 television station said Irish voters had headed to the polls to choose a new president, with front runner Sean Gallagher reeling from a "dirty tricks" campaign mounted by former IRA commander Martin McGuinness.

It quoted bookmaker Paddy Power as saying the allegations could have had a disastrous effect on Gallagher and had installed Michael D Higgins, "a 70-year-old poet and former arts minister, as the new favourite".

The BBC was already tipping Labour's Michael D Higgins to win the race, stating: "He is the ultimate safe pair of hands, a softly-spoken, bespectacled intellectual from the Irish Labour Party, which is part of the ruling coalition government."

mlavery@herald.ie