Cabinet ministers told to aid their neighbours
Six senior Fine Gael figures ordered to get out of constituencies and help other candidates
Published 22/02/2016 | 02:30
Six Fine Gael Cabinet ministers have been ordered to get outside their own constituencies in the coming days in a major bid to assist other candidates engaged in the battle for a seat.
The party has today launched its so-called 'ground war' strategy, aimed at shifting votes from stronger to weaker candidates in key constituencies.
As part of the Fine Gael plan, Cabinet heavyweights such as Health Minister Leo Varadkar, Finance Minister Michael Noonan and Agriculture and Defence Minister Simon Coveney have been told to leave their constituencies and help marginal candidates in other ones.
This approach is being adopted in relation to 10 constituencies in total, three of which are in Dublin, three in Leinster and four in Munster.
A number of MEPs, including Mairéad McGuinness and Seán Kelly, have also been dispatched in their respective regions as Taoiseach Enda Kenny also aims to complete a 48-hour whistlestop tour.
But Fine Gael's wider plan to shift support from stronger to weaker candidates, as revealed by the Irish Independent on Saturday, is likely to prove controversial.
In 20 constituencies, voters will be urged to support the weaker Fine Gael candidate in the field in the run-up to polling day. This will either be communicated via letter, face to face on the canvass, or through Facebook messages delivered by the party's director of elections and Dublin MEP Brian Hayes.
The first constituency chosen as part of the 'ground war' strategy is Dublin Bay North, where Fine Gael is running three candidates: Jobs Minister Richard Bruton, councillor Naoise Ó Muirí and party activist Stephanie Regan.
Mr Bruton is seen as being in the running for either the first or second seat. But the party's internal polling shows that Ó Muirí could take the final seat if the overall Fine Gael vote is managed properly.
The party has taken the decision to send a letter to voters in Clontarf - signed by Brian Hayes - which calls for them to vote Ó Muirí, Bruton and Regan in that order.
"If the Government is to be re-elected, it is vital that Fine Gael secures two seats in Dublin Bay North," the letter states.
"Recent opinion poll research has shown that we can do this, but we will need to manage our vote.
"I am appealing to all supporters of the Government parties in the Clontarf area to vote Number 1 Naoise Ó Muirí, Number 2 Richard Bruton and to vote Number 3 Stephanie Regan."
The letter, which was due to arrive in people's homes today, is co-signed by Taoiseach Enda Kenny. But Ms Regan said last night that the decision to push her into third spot was based on "a falsified poll".
"While my initial response was, of course, to feel an obligation to co-operate and to work as a team, it became clear that this decision was more to do with the 'boys club' mentality and that Regan was being sent to make the tea," she said.
Senior party sources last night said the move was essential in "rebalancing votes" ahead of polling day and that a similar strategy would be implemented in 19 other constituencies.
However, the move will be seen as risky, as it involves senior TDs being asked to jeopardise a portion of their vote.
Details of the Fine Gael plan emerged as Taoiseach Enda Kenny delivered a rallying call to supporters at the chq Building in Dublin yesterday.
With days to go until polling, the party is also set to fine-tune its message, selling the "success of society" rather than solely the "success of the economy".
The move is partly in response to feedback from rural candidates that the slogan 'Keep the recovery going' is not working. "It may have been too Dublin-focused," said a source. "While we can't abandon it entirely, it does need to be tailored."