Belfast solicitor John Finucane has been described by senior Sinn Féin figures as a "strong contender" to be selected as the party's candidate for the presidential election.

Last year, Mr Finucane increased the Sinn Féin vote by 8% in the constituency of North Belfast where Nigel Dodds was elected as MP.

He is a long-time campaigner for a public inquiry into the murder of his father Pat by loyalists in 1989.

Sinn Féin formally announced on Saturday that it would contest the presidential election but it has yet to pick a candidate.

A party selection committee will report next week and the Sinn Féin Ard Comhairle will meet at a later date to consider that report.

One of the party's MEPs Liadh Ní Riada is still viewed by many observers as the most likely candidate when a final decision is made.

Bookmakers Paddy Power claim they have suspended betting on the Sinn Féin presidential candidate process following a "string of bets" on Mr Finucane.

It is also understood that it could be another ten days before businessman Gavin Duffy publicly clarifies if he intends seeking a nomination to run for the presidency.

It is believed he is currently looking closely at the numbers on nine councils that could potentially back his bid to contest the election.

He would need the backing of just four of those councils and his efforts will be helped by the easing of the Fianna Fáil whip on councillors.

The party has changed its view that all Fianna Fáil election representatives must exclusively back Michael D Higgins' bid for a second term.

Another possible independent candidate, barrister Noel Whelan, said he is likely to decide in the next two weeks if he will seek a nomination.

He said the change in the Fianna Fáil position had opened up a pathway for him to enter the contest.

Independent Senator Joan Freeman is also expected to speak soon about her possible bid for the presidency.

Meanwhile, Longford County Council received a request this morning from artist and political campaigner Kevin Sharkey to address a meeting of the council regarding his intention to seek support for the election.

The next scheduled meeting of Longford County Council will be held on Wednesday 12 September.

Mr Sharkey also addressed a meeting of Wexford County Council last Monday 9 July.

It is understood that "one other aspiring candidate" has indicated that he would like to address the Council, but no formal request has yet been received. 

The next meeting of the Council will be in September. 

Additional reporting by Ailbhe Conneely