Mitchell camp still refusing to release anti-execution letters
FINE Gael presidential candidate Gay Mitchell is still refusing to release copies of letters he sent pleading for two killers on death row in the US to be spared execution.
The letters were sent asking for clemency in the cases of double killer Paul Jennings Hill, and Louis Joe Truesdale Jr, who raped and murdered a teenager.
His representations on behalf of two convicted murderers have been under scrutiny ever since Senator David Norris quit the presidential race.
Mr Norris had released a copy of a lengthy letter he had sent to an Israeli court pleading for his former partner Ezra Nawi not to be jailed for the statutory rape of a 15-year-old boy.
While pointing out that he was motivated by opposition to the death penalty, Mr Mitchell has yet to release the full details of letters he sent to authorities in the US.
His campaign spokesman said he did not have the time to dig back through his extensive files to see if it was possible to retrieve the letters.
"For 30 years, Gay Mitchell has been putting out several dozen letters a week," he said.
The spokesman said in the two specific death row cases, Mr Mitchell did not in any way condone the crimes of the people involved. He had been motivated purely due to his opposition to the death penalty.
"Gay Mitchell is implacably opposed to the death penalty always and everywhere. He's in the company of Amnesty International, Mary Robinson and others," he said.
Mr Mitchell, who was canvassing yesterday at the Blanchardstown Shopping Centre in Dublin with former Taoiseach John Bruton, previously served alongside Labour's presidential candidate Michael D Higgins for several years on the Oireachtas Foreign Affairs committee, which often dealt with pleas for prisoners facing the death penalty.
Mr Higgins was also asked if he had sent letters similar to those of Mr Mitchell. A spokeswoman said he had been a lifelong supporter of Amnesty International and other groups opposed to the death penalty.
"No specific letters come to mind, but any action taken would have been in the context of human rights campaigns, or joint decisions by the Oireachtas Foreign Affairs committee," she said.
Mr Mitchell got the backing of Amnesty International Ireland yesterday for his stance on opposing the death penalty. Its communications co-ordinator Justin Moran said the organisation was in favour of politicians campaigning on the death penalty issue.
"In general, we absolutely encourage people like Gay Mitchell to raise their support for the abolition of the death penalty in the USA or other countries," he said.
As chair of the Oireachtas European Affairs Committee in 2002, Mr Mitchell called in the Nigerian ambassador to Ireland to protest at the "stoning to death" sentence imposed on a woman accused of adultery under sharia law.
The conviction of Anima Lawal was later overturned, after worldwide protests which included the withdrawal of the Miss World beauty contest from Nigeria.
According to Amnesty, only 23 countries continue to use the death penalty. China executes more people than the rest of the world combined. Only one European country, Belarus, continues to carry out executions.