Fine Gael’s presidential candidate Gay Mitchell has said he would join the British Commonwealth in exchange for a United Ireland.
Speaking on The Last Word’s debate on Today FM, alongside the other six presidential hopefuls, he said he would be “disposed” to the idea if it meant having a 32-county republic.
He told the host Matt Cooper, “If it was the price of a United Ireland I would be disposed towards the idea...We have to stop thinking like this – we have blinkers on our heads all the time, we all think that we’re inclusive, so long as we’re inclusive of our own narrow view.”
Mitchell’s comments were an attack at McGuinness who called the Commonwealth “wrong”.
McGuinness said, “Gay is saying that he would accept that the Queen of England would have precedence over the Irish president.
“I don’t accept that at all. I believe that would be totally and absolutely wrong.”
Speaking after the debate, Mitchell said the Commonwealth had evolved since 1949, when Ireland left. He described it as a trading bloc that doesn’t necessitate the Queen as its figure head.
Mitchell said “The majority of members are republics – 33 – and five countries have different monarchs…Mandela led South Africa back to the Commonwealth in 1994. Regardless, it is a matter for the government.”
McGuinness called the debate pathetic.
During the two-hour debate each of the seven candidates spoke.
Mary Davis also took issue with some of Mitchell’s comments about Ireland hosting “some Olympics”.
Davis, who organizes Ireland’s Special Olympics, said “We were a group of people who got together and actually did something.” She added that the President of Ireland should celebrate diversity.
Independent candidate Sean Gallagher said he would like to see immigrants and Diaspora return to Ireland for the “Irish Expo” which will celebrate the centenary of the Easter Rising. He spoke about building a “new type of patriotism”.
David Norris also called for the anniversary of the Easter Rising to be marked by reading the 1916 Proclaimation at the General Post Office (GPO) on O’Connell Street, in Dublin. He also invited presidents from around the world to “vow to cherish all the people of the planet equally.”
Michael D Higgins said the anniversary of the Easter Rising was not the only anniversary on the calendar, referring to the founding of the Labour Party.
Dana Rosemary Scanlon called for the initiation of an annual Presidential address. She also spoke about the creation of a forum for the young people of Ireland where they could directly address the Irish head of state.