Sinn Fein has lashed out at Fine Gael over comments by Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, that its presidential candidate Martin McGuinness is "not an appropriate person" to hold the office of president.
Speaking in Brussels this morning, Mr Shatter said that Mr McGuinness's failure to attend the dinner for Queen Elizabeth in Dublin Castle in May underlined his unsuitability to be the next president of Ireland.
"Martin McGuinness has been doing a very important job in Northern Ireland but in the context of his capacity to be a reconciling force across the whole island of Ireland, I think his failure to embrace the Queen's visit, and to turn up at Dublin Castle at a time when Peter Robinson and his wife attended, indicates that he isn't an appropriate person to be our president."
But Sinn Feinn Deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald defended Mr McGuinness and said it will be the people who will decide who is fit for office and not Alan Shatter or the Fine Gael Party.
“I find it completely wrong that a government minister would interfere in the democratic process in such a manner,” she added.
“It is the people who will decide who is fit for the office of President and not Alan Shatter or the Fine Gael Party.
“Martin McGuinness is a very strong candidate and this is evidenced by the reactions of people like Alan Shatter,” she said.
Mr Shatter also said that Mr McGuinness's "exotic background" would mean it would be "unusual to say the least that he should become the titular head of the Defence Forces".
The Sinn Fein deputy first minister confirmed that he was running for president last Sunday.
Mr Shatter’s comments come as the race to the Aras heats up further.
Senator David Norris is just three nominations short of getting his name on the ballot paper.
And Dana Rosemary Scallon is understood to be close to getting the backing of the four county councils necessary to secure her bid for the presidency.
Other candidates who already have the backing to run are Fine Gael’s Gay Mitchell, Labour’s Michael D Higgins, Sean Gallagher and Mary Davis.
Meanwhile, Sinn Fein has confirmed that Mr McGuinness will not be allowed to vote for himself on October 27.
Sinn Fein has confirmed that Mr. McGuinness will not be eligible to cast a vote for the forthcoming election.
As a Derry resident, Mr. McGuinness qualifies for Irish citizenship and a passport; however to vote in elections in the Republic, electors must have proof of an address within the 26 counties.
According to Sinn Fein spokesperson Áine Downes, “This highlights the fact that Irish citizens in the north do not have a say in the election of the country's president. This is an issue that Martin has raised consistently and will continue to campaign on.”
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams encountered a similar problem in December of last year after he failed in his first attempt to be added to the electoral register just weeks before the general election in which he was standing.
But he was eventually successful in his attempt to vote in the general election.