| 12.8°C Dublin

Gallagher storms to top with Higgins in new poll

PRESIDENTIAL frontrunner Michael D Higgins has hailed today's presidential opinion poll as proving that he is in "pole position" in the race for the Aras.

The Labour candidate secured an impressive 23pc and is also performing best when it comes to second preference votes.

The poll shows that the race will come down to a dogfight between Mr Higgins, Sean Gallagher and Martin McGuinness.

However, a spokesperson for Mr Higgins today hailed the results as proving that the Labour candidate is in "pole position".

"It's a great result, we're very pleased. Michael has been getting a tremendous response," he said.

Independent candidate Mr Gallagher has put in the surprise performance of the poll - surging to second place with 20pc support.

It is the first time that the Dragon's Den star has shown he is a real contender, with sources close to him previously admitting that he was strongly hoping for a bounce in the polls.

However, a spokesperson for Mr Gallagher today played down the results, claiming that there is a "long way to go".

"This is Sean's first time running in an election, so he isn't paying much heed to poll results," he said.

"We've been getting a great response on the ground. We feel we're getting our message across and it's all very encouraging. However, it's far too early to judge how significant this poll is."

David Norris will today frantically try to repair his presidential campaign - with the poll showing a catastrophic collapse in support for the senator.

The many controversies that have plagued his campaign appear to have struck a chord with the voters.

The Trinity College senator is now lagging on 11pc - a massive 12 points behind than poll topper Mr Higgins.

And sources close to the senator have admitted that the controversies surrounding him have seriously damaged his presidential credentials.

The results of the IPOS/MRBI poll will send panic waves through the Fine Gael camp, with its candidate Gay Mitchell polling in second last place with a disastrous 9pc.

Fine Gael sources have told the Herald that many senior party figures have virtually given up on hopes of having a Fine Gael man in the Aras.

"He is just not making a good impact on voters," one senior TD told the Herald today.

The party may now be forced to revise its strategy -- with the former MEP spending most of his air time making unimpressive jibes at the Sinn Fein candidate Martin McGuinness.

The former IRA chief has again put in a decent poll performance and is sitting in third place with 19pc.

However, party figures have conceded that the Ulster MP is likely to receive very few transfers and that he would need to be polling more strongly if he is to be elected President.

The controversy surrounding Mary Davis's State board incomes does not seem to have damaged her core support base.

The former Special Olympics boss is on 12pc but her advisers will be concerned that her independent rival Mr Gallagher is enjoying a significant surge of support.

Dana Rosemary Scallon still appears to be making little impact on the voters with her poll rating remaining on 6pc.

But the collapse in support for Mr Norris has poured cold water on his repeated claims that the electorate is not interested in him revealing the seven controversial clemency letters.

It has now emerged that the Joycean scholar pocketed almost f500,000 in disability payments while serving as senator.

He confirmed that he had been receiving the payments for 16 years due to contracting hepatitis while in Central Europe.

A spokesperson for Mr Norris today refused to comment on the poll ratings.