FINE Gael presidential candidate Gay Mitchell last night said he regretted comparing abortion to the terror of a Nazi concentration camp in the past.
It came as he publicly pledged for the first time to release copies of letters sent pleading for two killers on death row to be spared execution -- as long as he could find them.
One was written on behalf of an anti-abortion campaigner who shot and killed a doctor and his bodyguard with a shotgun outside an abortion clinic.
Mr Mitchell had made his controversial comments about abortion in a speech at a 1998 conference hosted by aid agency Trocaire while he was still a Fine Gael TD.
He read out the testimony of a concentration camp survivor who witnessed "gas chambers built by learned engineers, children poisoned by educated physicians, infants killed by trained nurses, and women and babies shot and burned by high school and college graduates".
"The above quote in relation to the concentration camps could easily apply to the millions of abortions which needlessly take place year after year," Mr Mitchell said.
Last night, a spokesman for Mr Mitchell confirmed he was still an unequivocal opponent of abortion.
But he made it clear that Mr Mitchell regretted his choice of language.
"He wouldn't use such emotive language now, particularly in deference to the Jewish community," he said.
According to Mr Mitchell, his comments reflected his frustration with the situation in developing countries where poorer women have had abortion "foisted" upon them.
He has highlighted recent research that there are 100 million missing women due to gender-based abortion.
His spokesman also said that Mr Mitchell did not support anything that puts the life of the mother in danger.
In a separate interview yesterday, Mr Mitchell spoke about the two letters he had sent asking for clemency for killers on death row in the USA.
One was on behalf of Louis Joe Truesdale Jr, who raped and murdered a teenager, and the other was concerned the case of Paul Jennings Hill, who killed a doctor and his bodyguard outside an abortion clinic.
Mr Mitchell said he abhorred the crimes of both men and had written the letters due to his opposition to the death penalty. "In particular, I don't think I know how someone who's pro-life can take somebody else's life. I think that's absolutely outrageous," he told the LMFM radio station.
His representations on behalf of the two men have been under scrutiny ever since Senator David Norris quit the presidential race after releasing details of his mercy plea for his former partner, Ezra Nawi, who had been convicted of statutory rape.
Mr Mitchell yesterday made his first public pledge to release the letters -- after his campaign had previously said it didn't have the time to find them.