SINN Fein has snubbed a request from Fianna Fail for transfers in the Meath East by-election, with leader Gerry Adams telling party voters to support its candidate and no other political parties.
In a blow to Fianna Fail candidate Senator Thomas Byrne, who is likely to need Sinn Fein transfers to beat Fine Gael's Helen McEntee, Mr Adams says Sinn Fein supporters should vote for their candidate Darren O'Rourke – but should not transfer to other parties.
Mr Adams was responding after Mr Byrne told the Irish Independent he wanted Mr O'Rourke's transfers. A Fianna Fail spokesman declined to give a transfer recommendation for their voters.
Fine Gael sources say they have made no decision regarding their transfers but are tipped to recommend a number two for Labour's Eoin Holmes in the coming days.
Labour director of elections Dominic Hannigan says they will be making no recommendations, adding such a decision can only be taken by Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore and the party's national executive.
In a statement, Mr Adams said anyone voting for Mr O'Rourke should not continue their preferences for Fianna Fail, Fine Gael or Labour. However, Mr O'Rourke's transfers will be crucial if Fianna Fail is to take the seat.
"We are not advising our voters to transfer to Fianna Fail, Fine Gael or Labour," Mr Adams said. "The very last thing that Meath East needs is another government backbencher or a return to the failed politics of Fianna Fail, which have left this State with a legacy of bank debt, mortgage distress and unemployment.
"Fianna Fail created the economic and fiscal crisis. Fine Gael and Labour are now making things worse for struggling families."
The contest is widely seen as a two-horse race between Mr Byrne and Ms McEntee, with a final push on this weekend before polling day next Wednesday, March 27.
Both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael admit the result will be extremely tight, and Sinn Fein transfers would likely boost Mr Byrne.
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin and Taoiseach Enda Kenny will be on the canvass trail with their candidates over the coming days.
A Fianna Fail victory would be a huge boost for Mr Martin as his efforts at rebuilding the party continue, while holding the seat of former junior minister Shane McEntee would steady Fine Gael nerves after months of falling poll ratings and controversial policies.
Sinn Fein will be hoping to beat Labour into third place, and wants to build a platform for the next general election.
Some in Labour are already writing off their own chances. One TD said: "We're going to be wiped off the face of the earth, but I didn't tell you that."
But most sources say even a disastrous result for Labour would not pose an immediate threat to Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore.
"They are absolutely expecting it, they're preparing themselves, they're not giving up on it but they are open to the reality it will be bad," another source said.
"The aim is not to come behind the Sinn Fein candidate, but that could be explained if it did happen. There is a realistic sense it is coming at a really bad time for the party."