Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness is poised to contest the Irish presidential election.

The North’s deputy first minister has been approved by the party’s officer board. His nomination will now go before the Sinn Fein Ard Comhairle on Sunday for formal approval, which is expected to be a formality.

If the veteran Derry republican is elected to Ireland’s illustrious state role, he will have to relinquish his job as deputy first minister at the Stormont Executive.

It is believed that another Sinn Fein minister will stand in for Mr McGuinness during the presidential campaign. He will only have to give up his seat at Westminster as MP for Mid Ulster and as Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly if elected President.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams announced at the party’s Ard Fheis last weekend that the party would nominate a candidate for the Irish presidency. Speculation pointed towards either Mr McGuinness or Michelle Gildernew, the MP for Fermanagh South.

Mr McGuinness had said then that he “hadn’t even considered the prospect” of running for the presidency but added: “we’ll see what happens over the next short while”.

“I have my job to do - I don’t know what the party is going to decide.”

Some observers had predicted that it would be Ms Gildernew who would be chosen.

However, speculation that it would be Martin McGuinness’ name going forward intensified today, culminating in the announcement of his nomination earlier this afternoon. Mr McGuinness (61) has been in the United States since Sunday with First Minister Peter Robinson and is due home tomorrow. It is understood that having agreed to the dramatic move, Mr McGuinness has told Mr Robinson of his intention to step aside from his position as deputy first minister in order to contest the presidential election.

Sinn Fein are currently the fourth largest party in the Republic. Many observers believe they would be unlikely to win the presidental election but that the party will view the move as a significant means of testing their vote in the south.

Fine Gael’s Gay Mitchell, Special Olympics boss Mary Davis, buisnessman Sean Gallagher and Labour’s Michael D Higgins, have already put their names forward for next month’s election race.

Meanwhile Senator David Norris is to appear on RTE’s Late Late Show tonight to discuss his renewed attempts to secure a nomination.

Mr McGuinness is certain to face questions from all quarters in the Republic about his IRA past, as the campaign hots up for a successor to replace Mary McAleese who has served two terms as President.

Mr McGuinness’ political profile has never been higher since the peace process. Free Presbyterian Minister Rev David Latimer described him as “one of the great leaders of modern times” when he was invited to address last week’s Ard Fheis in Belfast.

The veteran Derry republican leader, who notably forged a strong friendship with the Rev Ian Paisley, is well used to answering any thorny questions thrown at him.

(See this weekend’s SUNDAY JOURNAL for the latest developments in this story)