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Mitchell would join Commonwealth in exchange for united Ireland

Gay Mitchell says he would be positively “disposed” about joining the Commonwealth if it was needed to secure Irish unity.

FINE GAEL’S presidential candidate Gay Mitchell has said he would be prepared to consider joining the British Commonwealth in exchange for the prospect of a United Ireland.

Speaking at Today FM’s seven-way presidential debate at the Sugar Club on Dublin’s Leeson St, Mitchell said he would be “disposed” to the idea if it was “the price” of having a 32-county republic.

“If it was the price of a United Ireland I would be disposed towards the idea,” Mitchell told Matt Cooper.

“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.”

His views came in for attack from Martin McGuinness, who said the notion of joining the Commonwealth as a form of quid pro quo was “wrong”.

“Gay is saying that he would accept that the Queen of England would have precedence over the Irish president,” he said.

“I don’t accept that at all. I believe that would be totally and absolutely wrong.”

After the debate, Mitchell explained that the Commonwealth had “evolved significantly” since Ireland had left it in 1949, and was now a trading bloc which does not require the British monarch to be at its head”.

“The majority of members are republics – 33 – and five countries have different monarchs… Mandela led South Africa back to the Commonwealth in 1994,” he said. ”Regardless, it is a matter for the government.”

McGuinness told reporters after the debate that the idea was “pathetic”.

1916 centenary

The two-hour discussion gave all contenders the chance to make points during the debate; Mary Davis also took issue with comments made by Mitchell, who had said Ireland had a chance to host “some Olympics”.

“We were a group of people who got together and actually did something,” Davis said, adding that the Presidency should be an office which celebrated diversity.

Sean Gallagher said he would like to see thousands of Irish emigrants and people of Irish heritage returning for an ‘Irish Expo’, to be held to mark the centenary of the Easter Rising, as a way of building a “new type of patriotism”.

Michael D Higgins, on the same question, said the anniversary of the Easter Rising was not the only anniversary on the horizon – others included the founding of the Labour Party, he noted.

Dana Rosemary Scallon spoke of her desire for an annual Presidential address, and for the creation of a forum of young people to give them direct access to the head of state.

David Norris said he would like to mark the Easter Rising anniversary by reading the 1916 Proclamation at the GPO, and invite the presidents of other countries to “vow to cherish all the people of the planet equally.”

As it happened: The presidential candidates’ Last Word debate >

In full: TheJournal.ie‘s coverage of the Race for the Áras >

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Gavan Reilly

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