There had been concern in both Downing Street and the Department of Culture that Heaney's known republicanism could make such an appointment highly controversial.
But yesterday Heaney saved them further worry when he said he would not accept the post. The Londonderry-born writer is the second highly fancied candidate to rule himself out as successor to the late Ted Hughes because of republican views. He said: "I simply couldn't write the poems for the job, and given some of the statements I have made I don't think I could accept it."
He has often used his verse to take sideswipes at British rule in Ireland.
Some of those involved in the selection process - organisations such as the Poetry Society are consulted - had hoped that he would accept the post as a way of emphasising the changing relationship between Britain and Ireland at a crucial time in the peace process.
But he said in an interview with BBC Northern Ireland, to be broadcast tomorrow, that he has had many ambitions in his life, and being Poet Laureate is not one of them. "I simply couldn't do it, it's not my job."
His refusal comes two months after Yorkshire-born Tony Harrison sent Buckingham Palace his "refusal" with the flamboyant gesture of a scathing 94-line poem in a national newspaper.
The favourites now are Carol Ann Duffy, the Scottish born poet, and Andrew Motion, the biographer of Keats and Philip Larkin. Tony Blair will be making a recommendation to the Queen within a few weeks.
Both Ms Duffy and Mr Motion would be willing to make Poet Laureate a more public and educational post, probably going into schools, and certainly creating verse for public occasions other than royal events.
The next poet laureate is likely for the first time to be paid for his or her verse. But there is little chance of being able to give up the day job. The salary is expected to be around pounds 10,000.Reuse content