Poll shock: Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness tops RTE election vote for Irish President
From prison cell to White House guest ... where will the journey end?
Controversial candidate for the Republic of Ireland's Presidency Martin McGuinness has topped a flash poll carried out by state broadcaster RTE with 5,947 votes.
However, David Norris, who now looks unlikely to get nominated on to the ballot paper for the election, was just over 200 votes behind him at 5,732 votes. The opinion poll took place during the Joe Duffy Show yesterday.
Fine Gael’s Gay Mitchell got 2,668 votes, followed by Independent Mary Davis at 2,314 and Michael D. Higgins at 2,194.
Independent candidate Rosemary Scallon secured 1,424 votes and Sean Gallagher came in last at 1,290 votes.
Mr McGuinness has hit back at his detractors in recent days over questions about his past involvement in the IRA saying: "I say to all of them, I go forward on my record and my record as a peace-maker, (which) I think is unequalled anywhere."
He then listed his international trips, including visits to the White House at the behest of three different US Presidents, to South Africa on the invitation of Nelson Mandela, to Iraq, Sri Lanka and the Basque region in Spain.
Mr McGuinness said he had never hidden his past and had joined the IRA as a young man in Derry and that his "struggle" was against the "military forces of the State".
Meanwhile, Fianna Fail dealt a serious blow to the presidential ambitions of Eurovision winner Dana and David Norris after opting not to back an independent contender.
Both require the support of at least 20 Oireachtas members to be officially declared candidates, but the parliamentary party's decision withdraws a potential 33 votes.
The Fianna Fail parliamentary party met in Dublin to decide its stance on the presidency.
Fianna Fail Senator Labhras O Murchu pulled out of the race as TDs and Senators gathered, claiming he did not want to prolong uncertainty within party ranks.
After last week's fractious meeting, Tuesday's gathering lasted less than 45 minutes with leader Micheal Martin putting forward a motion to stay out of the presidential race.
It was seconded by his deputy Eamon O'Cuiv, despite the two previously clashing over the party's stance.
The decision will be a blow to both Dana and Senator David Norris, both of whom need Fianna Fail support.
A spokesman for Dana had no comment to make on the decision.
Mr Norris received a boost when Independent TD Catherine Murphy said she would sign his nomination papers. But it is believed he still falls short of the required 20 signatures without Fianna Fail backing.
The Kildare North TD had supported Mr Norris until it was revealed he sent a letter of clemency for his ex-partner who was convicted of statutory rape.
The Presidential hopefuls were out in force at Ireland's social event of the year over the weekend as they took their campaign trail into the heart of the country.
More than 70,000 people visited the first day of the National Ploughing Championships, which spanned 700 acres across Athy, Co Kildare.
Gay Mitchell, Michael D Higgins, Martin McGuinness and Independent candidates Sean Gallagher and Mary Davis canvassed hundreds of potential voters as they moved through spectators.
"He's so honest, and pleasant and amicable," said one Mitchell supporter. "There's no PR spin."
But it was President Mary McAleese who stole the heart of the crowd, getting several hugs from well-wishers and even a packet of crisps from admirer Mark Moran.
Ms McAleese paid tribute to the first lady of the National Ploughing Association, managing director Anna May McHugh, who has been involved with the championship for 50 of its 80 years.
"She's like a mother hen watching over her chicks," said the President. "Tireless, inspirational and amazing."
As the national anthem played, squeals of teenagers dangling upside down on amusement rides could be heard in the distance.
Among the thousands of faces in the crowd as the President gave her speech was newest candidate Mr McGuinness - who was possibly wondering if he will be the one to officially open the championship in New Ross, Co Wexford, in 2012.
"It's fantastic to be down here, a great experience and a great national event attended by people from north, south, east and west," he said.