Fine Gael candidate Gay Mitchell tried to rescue his faltering campaign by turning fire on the TV business pundit, who has emerged as a serious challenger for the presidency.
In an attack clearly aimed at the Dragons Den star, Mr Mitchell warned against electing rivals lacking “substance”.
“If we choose celebrity over substance I think we are making a very big mistake,” Mr Mitchell told RTÉ. “I think there are people who are very good candidates but really don’t have the vision and experience that I have.”
Mr Mitchell’s attacks, especially on Martin McGuinness, have plunged his Áras bid into crisis: He now trails his party’s poll standings by 25 points.
In another attack, this time on frontrunner and former Labour arts minister Michael D Higgins, Mitchell said young people should not be pushed into the “Skype” emigration generation “while we sip champagne in the park reciting poetry”.
The sudden emergence of Mr Gallagher as the main challenger to Mr Higgins is set to see rivals paint him as the “stealth” Fianna Fáil candidate.
It emerged Mr Gallagher remained on Fianna Fáil’s national executive until January — despite claims he left two years ago.