Higgins set to be comfortably re-elected as President

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Two exit polls have predicted that Michael D Higgins has been re-elected to the largely ceremonial post of President of Ireland with well over half of the vote.

The polls by the Irish Times and RTE were released after voting closed at 10pm, and matches predictions that the dimunitive academic and poet would easily win another seven years at Aras an Uachatarain.

The exit polls also suggest that former Dragons Den celebrity Peter Casey has come from bottom of the polls to second place with about 21% of the vote, largely as a result of publicity he received after making bigoted comments against Ireland's gypsy-like Travelling community.

In third place was Sinn Fein candidate Liadh Ni Riada, whose vote was roughly half the party achieved with Martin McGuinness seven years ago. The party's worst result in a 26 County election in recent decades, and its failure to hold its election deposit, could place pressure on the leadership of Mary Lou McDonald who succeeded Gerry Adams as Sinn Fein leader in February.

Another star of Dragons Den and a previous candidate seven years ago, Sean Gallagher, is expected to come fourth, followed by charity entrepreneur Joan Freeman. A third Dragons Den star, Gavin Duffy, is set to the first eliminated when counting begins officially tomorrow morning.

All of the candidates but Higgins and Casey will have lost their deposits. The full results of the Irish Times exit poll are as follows:

Michael D Higgins - 56%
Peter Casey - 21%
Liadh Ni Riada - 8%
Sean Gallagher - 7%
Joan Freeman - 6%
Gavin Duffy - 2%

The full results of the RTE exit poll are as follows:

Michael D Higgins - 58%
Peter Casey - 21%
Liadh Ni Riada - 7%
Joan Freeman - 6%
Sean Gallagher - 6%
Gavin Duffy - 2%

A referendum to delete a little-known reference to blasphemy in the Constitution was also passed easily in voting today, with the Irish Times exit poll predicting that 69 per cent of voters have backed the proposal.

A full report on the results will be carried in tomorrow's regular edition.

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