FG concerned 'erratic' Kenny damaging party election hopes
Taoiseach Enda Kenny's erratic performance on the election campaign trail has sparked alarm that he is seriously damaging his party's re-election chances.
For the third time in recent weeks the Fine Gael leader has been forced to embarrassingly clarify his own words.
He has now categorically ruled out Fianna Fáil as a potential coalition partner - but not before furious Labour Party strategists intervened to say he was undermining the outgoing Coalition's message of balance and stability.
Fine Gael sources have told the Irish Independent there was never any plan to open up the possibility of working with Fianna Fáil, even though Mr Kenny repeatedly refused to answer a straight question during his party's manifesto launch on Sunday.
Asked if he would rule out leading a government that was relying on the support of Fianna Fáil, he said he was not "contemplating" having to do a deal with Micheál Martin.
This was widely interpreted as a softening of his previous statements at a crucial point in the campaign.
A well-placed Fine Gael source admitted Mr Kenny's response had "wavered" from earlier ones where he categorically ruled out Fianna Fáil - but added that this was not part of any plan.
His ambiguity led to fears in the Labour Party that they were about to be 'cut loose' as a result of their poor showing in the opinion polls.
Tánaiste Joan Burton met with Mr Kenny on Sunday night and received reassurances he would make it clear that there is no "fall-back" plan if voters don't re-elect the Coalition.
Sources in both Fine Gael and Labour suggested that Mr Kenny's response to the question was due to him becoming increasingly agitated by reporters asking about coalition options.
In an effort to reassert the vote transfer pact Ms Burton said yesterday the Taoiseach would clarify he was still exclusively committed to going back into government with Labour.
And less than two hours later, Mr Kenny told reporters: "I thought the people in the media are very careful about records as you play them back to us very often.
"I was the first party leader to rule out Fianna Fáil. I've ruled them out on at least 10 occasions in the last fortnight and I'll do so again now - very clearly."
However, even that statement was not exactly in line with what his advisors would have liked.
"It could have been clearer, but make no mistake, Fianna Fáil are not and will not be an option," said one source.
Concern is mounting within Fine Gael that Mr Kenny's 'mixed messages' are partly to blame for their lack of traction with the public.
Mr Kenny allowed 10 days around the start of the campaign to be taken up with questions about whether he would look to Independent TD Michael Lowry to help form a government if the Coalition falls short of 80 seats.
Initially, Mr Kenny insisted on saying he did not "envisage" doing business with any Independents but eventually relented to say he would "not have any dealings" with the Tipperary TD.
There was further controversy when Mr Kenny failed to answer questions on how much money Fine Gael believe is available to fulfil their election promises. On that occasion he said he did not want to discuss the so-called 'fiscal space' because it was "economic jargon which the vast majority of people don't understand".
There have been ongoing contacts between background teams in Fine Gael and the Labour Party since the campaign began 13 days ago.
At the Labour Party's manifesto launch, Ms Burton stressed that the outgoing Coalition had lasted five years together and could do so again.
"We need a Government with a proven track record. Not one making it up as it goes along.
"Pulled this way and that way by Independents and others whose patriotism stops at their constituency borders," the Tánaiste said.