'Street fighter' Mitchell on the attack as FG changes tactics
Published 03/10/2011 | 05:00
FINE GAEL presidential candidate Gay Mitchell yesterday stepped up a co-ordinated series of attacks by his party on Sinn Fein rival Martin McGuinness.
Mr Mitchell was involved in a heated on-air confrontation with Mr McGuinness and vowed afterwards to continue pressing him about his IRA past, his salary and his claim to be an Independent candidate.
"Mr McGuinness did not leave the IRA in 1974, Mr McGuinness is the Sinn Fein candidate though he says that he isn't. Mr McGuinness does not live on the average industrial wage, just ask him for his P60," he said.
Senior Fine Gael figures hope to rally party supporters behind Mr Mitchell by targeting Mr McGuinness.
Environment Minister Phil Hogan had earlier branded Mr McGuinness a "terrorist" who would frighten off US multi-national investment from the country. That was followed by tweets from Government Chief Whip Paul Kehoe during the row between the two candidates on Eamon Dunphy's Newstalk show.
His first was: "I wouldn't trust Martin McGuinness to take my dog for a walk" followed by: "Why would you need your salary when you have the proceeds of the Northern Bank at your disposal."
It will put pressure on Taoiseach Enda Kenny -- who is due to attend Mr Mitchell's official campaign launch in Dublin today -- to state if he shares any of these views. A spokesman for Mr Kenny said last night he had no comment to make.
It is the biggest row of the presidential campaign so far -- and marks a clear change of tactics by Mr Mitchell, who has been trailing in the opinion polls. Mr Mitchell was unapologetic when asked yesterday whether he and other senior party figures were mounting a negative campaign against Mr McGuinness.
"I went in there to talk about the issues. I'm a street fighter, I've a fighting spirit, I will fight for my country," he said.
He said that Mr McGuinness was no "Nelson Mandela" -- but Mr McGuinness said at a Sinn Fein rally in Dublin over the weekend that Mr Mitchell was no "Michael Collins". Mr McGuinness yesterday branded the Fine Gael attacks on him as "dirty tricks" and "black propaganda".
"The reality is that they are annoyed that I have said that as President of Ireland, I would only take an average wage. That's what's really bugging them," he said.
Mr McGuinness said he was willing to open his bank account to show he had only received an average industrial wage as Deputy First Minister. Regarding Mr Hogan's claim that Mr McGuinness would frighten off US multinationals, Mr McGuinness said there had been 150 foreign investments resulting in 13,000 jobs in the North over the past four years.
He said the heated interview on Dunphy's show was worse than anything he experienced during the peace process negotiations.
"The Hillsborough and the Good Friday negotiations were a doddle compared to that," he said.
He also dismissed Mr Kehoe's attempts to link him to the unsolved £26.5m (€30m) Northern Bank robbery in 2004.
Dunphy described his on-air row with Mr Mitchell as "the most unpleasant broadcasting experience" of his career.
He was accused by Mr Mitchell during the interview on Newstalk 106 yesterday of being biased towards his "pal", Mr McGuinness.
But Dunphy hit back, saying: "I didn't feel I was biased. I asked reasonable questions of both of them."