INDEPENDENT presidential candidate Sean Gallagher today hit back at suggestions made by Fine Gael's Gay Mitchell that he is a "celebrity" candidate.
The Dublin MEP yesterday turned up the heat on his presidential rival -- claiming that voters should avoid choosing "celebrity over substance".
"If we choose celebrity over substance I think we are making a very big mistake," he said.
"I think there are people who are very good candidates, but really don't have the vision and experience that I have," he added.
Although Mr Mitchell refused to say who he was referring to, the comment is being widely seen as an attempt to damage Mr Gallagher's campaign after he made a surge in popularity in the latest opinion polls.
Mr Mitchell also attacked his Labour Party rival Michael D Higgins, claiming that he did not want our young people being pushed into the Skype emigration generation "while we sip champagne in the park reciting poetry".
Fine Gael sources were today playing down the attack, claiming that it is part and parcel of Mitchell's personality.
"He's been outspoken from the start, Higgins and Gallagher are riding high in the polls so it's no surprise Gay would target them. He'll continue to do what he's doing because that's who he is," one source told the Herald.
But a spokesperson for the former Dragon's Den star said Mr Gallagher is completely opposed to labelling people.
He said: "One of the key messages Sean is sending out is that people should completely avoid labelling people. He dealt with it when he was growing up and he has continuously vowed to avoid the type of negative campaigning that some candidates choose to engage in. If Mr Mitchell wants to make comments like that, then that's an issue for him and Fine Gael. It is not part of Sean's message and it has no place in our campaign."
However, a spokesperson for Mr Mitchell rejected claims he is engaging in negative campaigning.
"Gay has not been negative whatsoever in this presidential campaign.
"He was referring to the 1997 general election and that, if the people had chosen John Bruton, we wouldn't have squandered the boom like we did under Bertie Ahern and Charlie McCreevy."