Dana is a reminder of old Ireland, from her strict, conservative stands on social issues to her status as an emigrant who found her future -- and fortune -- in America, where she works for the Eternal Word TV Network.
Dana, who hails from Londonderry in Northern Ireland, was one of the island's first modern superstars, winning the 1970 Eurovision Song Contest by beating the likes of Julio Iglesias.
Dana is against abortion and divorce, says the person she admires most is Pope John Paul II, and fears that Ireland may be on the way toward emulating the decadence of the United States.
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"Diversity and traditional values can be maintained," she says. "Ireland has produced tremendous spirit and moral fiber over the years that have given the country strength. Now that we have NTC some money, why give all that up?"
Banotti, a former nurse and social worker, has links with the old and new Ireland. Her grand-uncle was Michael Collins, the fiery nationalist whose terrorist techniques and political guile helped create the modern Irish state.
She is also the first divorced person to hold elected office in Ireland.
Banotti has led the European fight against child abduction and pornography. She is an environmentalist who wants to conduct a litter-free campaign, refusing to place her posters on light poles.
To some, Banotti's biggest drawback is that she is a politician.
"There is a lot of nonsense being spoken, people are throwing it at me -- in some way because you're a politician, you're less worthy," she says. "I absolutely refute that totally."
Roche is tapping into a different Ireland altogether, threading together a diverse group of grass-roots activists, whose concerns are social and moral. She is married to a music teacher and childless -- by choice, she says.
Roche is founder and executive director of the Chernobyl Children's Project, which provides shelter and medical care to children affected by the fallout from the 1986 accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine.
She's known for her tough talk and hands-on approach. But she was hurt early in this campaign when disgruntled charity workers publicly castigated her as a bully.
"The presidency to me is like a mirror, a reflection of what is good about Ireland, the embodiment of Irish hospitality," she says. "We are known the world over for 100,000 welcomes. My presidency would radiate that, and reflect that back."
Perhaps the candidate who best sums up the complexity of Ireland is McAleese, the current front-runner who is a top administrator at Queens University in Belfast.
She is a social conservative who is against abortion and divorce. Yet she favors the ordination of women as Catholic priests. And she supports gay rights.
McAleese is also an ardent nationalist, who seeks a united Ireland. She was reported to have once described Great Britain as a "police state" crippled by "hysterical" prejudice.
Asked about her past public stands, McAleese says, "My views on these subjects are irrelevant to the views of the presidency."
"You can't take up positions," she says. "You are not in a position to argue issues. The role of the president is not to lead crusades."
So, she presents herself as a unifying figure, a woman whose history mirrors Ireland's.
"The presidency is one of those curious symbols," McAleese admits. "It just defies logic."
But symbols and ceremony matter. Ireland isn't just electing a president, it is selecting an image to show the world.
Pub Date: 10/06/97