A LABOUR politician has warned Fine Gael that it is "heading towards a general election" if the junior coalition party continues to be blamed over the threatened closure of hundreds of post offices.
Kerry TD Arthur Spring furiously rejected claims that Labour was targeting the post office network.
He was one of three Labour TDs to openly hit out at Fine Gael as tensions grew between the two parties over the future of post offices.
Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte earlier held a series of private meetings with Labour TDs in a bid to to calm tensions, amid fears for almost 600 post offices across the country.
He reassured the deputies that the Government had no plans to close down post offices and that the projection of mass closures was linked to a scenario that An Post would lose a social welfare contract, which it won last year.
As was revealed in the Irish Independent this week, Labour was left furious after Fine Gael sent out a press release which urged its TDs and senators to target Mr Rabbitte over the potential closure of post offices.
And tensions spilled over into a debate on a private member's motion tabled by Independent TD Seamus Healy. The Government voted to amend the motion, which will allow for a review into the sustainability of post offices.
However, three Labour TDs – Ann Phelan, Ciara Conway and Mr Spring – used the debate to hit back at Fine Gael over suggestions that Labour was targeting post offices.
"The idea that the Labour Party is going to be blamed for anything other than a good plan... Fine Gael, lads, you're heading for a general election, not a local election if you keep this smart alec (behaviour) up, I tell you that," Mr Spring said.
Mr Spring also suggested that TDs mobile phone numbers have been handed out to postmasters opposed to closures.
As TDs debated the motion, a group of almost 2,000 postmasters, their staff and families gathered outside Leinster House to protest over the potential closures. Several postmasters spoke about their fears that they will lose their businesses.
"We play a part in the community where people may be in trouble and need a loan," said Seamus McCarthy, postmaster of the Gneevgullia office in Co Kerry.
Meanwhile, An Post has confirmed that three rural offices face closure within weeks. A spokesman said the offices – two in Donegal and one in Galway – are currently lying vacant.
"We are examining a number of options and one of these is closure," he told the Irish Independent.
"A consultation process is ongoing."
Earlier, the Irish Postmaster's Union (IPU) warned that that it would take action to halt efforts to "cannibalise" the post office network.
Union officials claim there will be mass closures as a result of efforts by the Department of Social Protection to move to an electronic payments model.
"It seems to us that the Government is presiding over the death of communities in this country," according to IPU general secretary Brian McGann.
However, Mr Rabbitte denied accusations that the Government was "kicking the can down the road" in relation to the future of post offices.