FIANNA Fail TDs are confident Gay Byrne will make it to the Aras if he decides to run after an opinion poll yesterday showed strong levels of support for the former 'Late Late Show' presenter.
Gay Mitchell's campaign team insisted it was "not fazed" by the poll, which saw the Fine Gael Dublin MEP coming in fourth -- 15pc behind Byrne and 8pc behind Labour's Michael D Higgins.
FF Limerick TD Niall Collins, who, along with Carlow-Kilkenny's John McGuinness and Clare's Timmy Dooley, was one of the main movers in backing Byrne, said it was a good poll for the veteran broadcaster.
Yesterday's poll, carried out by Red C for bookmakers Paddy Power, put Byrne in front on 28pc, with Mr Higgins on 21pc and Mr Mitchell trailing on 13pc, level with Fianna Fail's Brian Crowley. Independent Sean Gallagher is on 12pc, with Mary Davis further back on 7pc and Dana Rosemary Scallon -- said to be considering a run -- coming in on 6pc.
Surprisingly, Byrne's support is strongest among young voters, although these are less likely to turn up and vote on the day.
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"I think it's a good opinion poll for Gay Byrne and if you take his support and add it to Brian Crowley's, then he's in a good position," Mr Collins said.
"But it is all very much in flux until Gay Byrne decides what to do."
Mr Collins also said he didn't believe Byrne's anti-EU views -- which has included him saying the country was being run by "mad people in Brussels" -- would have a significant effect.
Mr McGuinness, meanwhile, said Byrne was right to raise such concerns, and said "those who promoted him can be heartened by his showing".
Fianna Fail sources said it was highly unlikely they would stand Mr Crowley, the Munster MEP who has expressed an interest in running, if the television host takes up Micheal Martin's offer of FF support.
Mr Martin told Byrne that FF would facilitate his entry to the race as an Independent by giving him the 20 Oireachtas signatures needed.
Mr Crowley did not return calls last night. He had the support of 35pc of FF voters in the poll -- but this isn't seen as a major factor, since the party's vote collapsed to 17pc in the general election.
One TD asked: "Where is our core vote? Fianna Fail got 17pc. I would have expected that he (Mr Crowley) would poll around that, but is there any way up from there? If he didn't run, you could be looking at 9pc or 10pc of that going to Gay."
But there is some disquiet in FF, with one member of the parliamentary party saying the Gay Byrne issue was being presented as a "fait accompli".
Fianna Fail deputy leader Eamon O Cuiv again refused to comment on Byrne.
Meanwhile, Government Chief Whip Paul Kehoe said Mr Mitchell's campaign had yet to get into full swing.
"We've come from a few weeks when all the news has been about Gay Byrne and David Norris," Mr Kehoe said.
"We haven't got into the swing of the election yet and that will change in September. I still believe Gay Mitchell will be president."