Gloves are off as Fine Gael blitz Martin McGuinness
The gloves came off in the presidential election last night as Fine Gael targeted the IRA past of Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness -- and warned of more to come.
Fine Gael candidate Gay Mitchell questioned Mr McGuinness's fitness to hold the office of president as that would also put him in charge of the Defence Forces.
Earlier, Justice Minister Alan Shatter claimed Mr McGuinness would not be an appropriate person to be the next president.
Sinn Fein hit back hard, saying Fine Gael's attacks highlighted how strong a candidate Mr McGuinness had become.
The campaign got dirty as Independent hopefuls David Norris and Dana Rosemary Scallon continued to lobby in their frantic efforts to get on the ticket.
Mr Mitchell said he was "going to make an issue" of the "implications" of the Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister becoming president.
Fine Gael sources said other party figures were "only dying to take a cut off" Mr McGuinness. An insider said: "There's enough people out there in the public worried about this situation and the message it will send out internationally." The source added: "I'd say it will turn into a completely dirty campaign."
In the course of his attack, Mr Mitchell did not directly mention Mr McGuinness's past as a leading member of the IRA.
He said the president's constitutional role over the Defence Forces had to be understood by the public.
"Martin McGuinness is part of the administration in Northern Ireland. He is part of a forced solution in a local jurisdiction. And we respect that and we accept that.
"Translating him from there to the Supreme Command of the Defence Forces as head of state in a state that he tentatively recognises is a very big step," he said.
"I have to say I don't think anyone would make Martin McGuinness the Minister for Defence in Northern Ireland."
Earlier Alan Shatter referred to the Sinn Fein candidate's "exotic background" and said he felt Mr McGuinness could not be a reconciling force in the country given his failure to embrace the visit of Queen Elizabeth II.
Sinn Fein vice-president Mary Lou McDonald said the people would decide who was fit for the presidency, not Mr Shatter. "I find it completely wrong that a government minister would interfere in the democratic process in such a manner.
"Martin McGuinness is a very strong candidate and this is evidenced by the reactions of people like Alan Shatter," she said.
A new poll showed Mr Norris continued to lead the field.
The latest poll shows Mr Norris on 27pc, Labour's Michael D Higgins on 18pc, Mr McGuinness on 15pc, Independent Mary Davis on 15pc, Independent Sean Gallagher on 11pc, Mr Mitchell on 10pc and Ms Scallon on 4pc.
But the poll conducted by Millward Brown Lansdowne was done online and with a smaller sample size of 500 people, giving it a 4pc margin of error.
It was taken from Tuesday to Friday of this week.
The remaining two prospective candidates face a race to the wire to get on the ticket.
Ms Scallon looks almost certain to get on the ballot paper on October 27 with a number of county councils poised to back her next week.
Mr Norris will also be expected to add to the one council he has backing him, if he does not achieve the required 20 Oireachtas signatures. He is three shy of the latter number.