FF's rivals to 'marginalise' Martin and his party
Martin now under pressure to consider FF-FG coalition
Fianna Fáil's rivals are to step up efforts to "marginalise" the party and its leader, Micheál Martin, during the upcoming election campaign as they seek to portray him as increasingly irrelevant.
Mr Martin spent the weekend of the party's Ard Fheis insisting that Fianna Fáil will not enter coalition with Sinn Féin or Fine Gael, with supporters left in the dark as to how he hopes to form part of the next government.
At the same time he is under pressure to revisit his insistence that he would not share power with Fine Gael, with former deputy leader Mary O'Rourke emphasising the need for "a more pragmatic stance".
Ms O'Rourke said she had long held the view that they should co-operate with Fine Gael, which was also the party her father first supported. She said she had set out her views in a major speech more than three years ago.
"The era of the big parties taking all is long gone. We need to keep options open," she told the Irish Independent.
Ms O'Rourke also praised Mr Martin's performance at the Ard Fheis but urged him to take a more pragmatic view of potential coalitions. It followed strong comments this weekend by Kilkenny TD John McGuinness on the same lines, which were echoed by others.
There were also positive messages on the Fine Gael side on the need to keep options open. Waterford Fine Gael TD John Deasy said stability was vital and if it could only be achieved by coalition with Fianna Fáil, then it should be done.
Former Fine Gael strategist Frank Flannery said his preference remained the return of the current Coalition, or a variant of it, perhaps supported by like-minded Independent TDs. "But if it cannot be done - then Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil should be a fall-back in interests of national security," Mr Flannery said.
Political opponents are preparing to seize on the perceived lack of direction from the Cork TD, presenting Mr Martin as a leader who would prefer to remain in opposition. Sources within both Sinn Féin and Fine Gael told the Irish Independent they will seek to marginalise the rival leader as irrelevant.
As it approaches its own Ard Fheis next weekend, Fine Gael will play up the idea there is no alternative to the current Coalition.
"Micheál Martin had to be radical to get Fianna Fáil back into the game. The only radical thing he has done is make them redundant," said a source.
Fine Gael strategists believe that targeting Gerry Adams as the major political threat is the next logical step, with Mr Martin being pushed into third place in the debate.
Mr Adams himself said: "By ruling Fianna Fáil out of government, Micheál Martin has made himself entirely irrelevant to the General Election."
Meanwhile, after two more disappointing opinion polls, the Labour Party is now relying heavily on Fine Gael to hold up its end of the vote transfer pact.
Tánaiste Joan Burton also tried to push Mr Martin into the margins, saying the "underlying tone" of his Ard Fheis speech was of "a party that is extremely nervous to say the least of being involved in any government".
"In terms of dancing partners there is something wrong with everybody - so they are ruling them all out," she said.
Labour also made more promises - this time to cut class sizes to 20 pupils.
Labour Dublin North West TD John Lyons said this would mean the smallest class numbers in the State's history, down from current averages of more than 30.