Pope Benedict XVI may visit Ireland in 2012 Martin McGuinness, the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland has stated.

McGuinness said he had "some grounds" for making his prediction when speaking before a committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

McGuinness was asked why he had not attended the pope's visit to Scotland last week and he said he would rather meet him when he came to Ireland.The Pope could visit Ireland by 2012.

The Deputy First Minister added: "I also have some grounds for believing that could happen as soon as 2012."

Pope John Paul II visited Ireland to a rapturous reception in 1979 but it is unclear what kind of welcome Pope Benedict would receive.

Only a few thousand Irish traveled to see the pope in Britain despite efforts to  attract far larger numbers.

The pedophile scandal has struck the Catholic church in Ireland hard and Benedict has come in for withering criticism,especially in recent times when he allowed two bishops who had been linked with the scandal to retain senior positions.