Gilmore attacks FG leader over trip to Brussels
- Gilmore attacks Kenny over trip to EU
- Parties feverishly gear up for election
FINE Gael leader Enda Kenny yesterday came under intense attack from his potential coalition partner Eamon Gilmore as Labour took off the gloves for the election campaign.
The attack came as Taoiseach Brian Cowen -- who raised fresh doubts over whether he would contest a seat -- finally set the scene for the election after revealing he would go to the Aras on Tuesday to dissolve the Dail.
Following renewed criticism of his leadership, Mr Kenny adopted a statesmanlike stance as he headed to Brussels with his finance spokesman Michael Noonan to meet European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso to discuss the interest rate on Ireland's bailout package.
Yesterday, Mr Gilmore played down the importance of Mr Kenny's trip.
"I am not quite sure what they are discussing but the negotiation has to be on the basis of a mandate given by the people," he said.
"The Labour Party is going to be asking every single voter in this country to give the Labour Party a mandate to renegotiate that deal.
"The Labour Party has been in contact with our own colleagues in the EU and we have no quibble with that. But let us be clear -- the renegotiation of the deal can only take place after the election and after a mandate has been given to a new Government to renegotiate."
These new tensions emerged as the row over the leaders' debates continued with Mr Gilmore continuing to put pressure on Mr Kenny to take part in a three-way debate.
He challenged the Fine Gael leader to "step up to the microphone".
"I will debate with Micheal Martin on his own -- I think it would be a pity if Enda Kenny didn't show up to that debate. I think that anybody who is offering to lead the next Government should be out explaining to people what they intend to do with this country and with our future," he said.
But Fine Gael justice spokesman Alan Shatter hit back at Labour, accusing them of being conned by Fianna Fail who wanted to distract from Mr Martin's culpability as a cabinet minister for the past 13 years.
"Fianna Fail have put Bertie in the closet, they are about to put Brian in the closet and Micheal has suddenly jumped out of the closet to pretend he doesn't have responsibility for the state of our country," he said.
Mr Martin said politics was about debate.
"The only way people can make informed choices is basically to have the opportunity to hear in considerable detail the presentations from each political party about the future," he said.
It's believed polling day will be Friday, February 25, although the Taoiseach does have the option of extending it to Tuesday, March 2.
The date announcement will trigger the start of almost four weeks of frantic campaigning and will follow the Finance Bill being put to bed with a landmark weekend sitting of the Oireachtas.
The bill is expected to be rubber stamped by senators later today, followed by a possible late-night sitting of the Dail.
Meanwhile, Finance Minister Brian Lenihan launched an unexpectedly bitter attack on the Green Party.
He said he found it extraordinary the Greens "could not find it in their hearts" to stay in Government for another week.
But the Greens hit back, criticising former Justice Minister Dermot Ahern for not bringing in civil partnerships earlier and for not giving them their dues when it was introduced.
Ahead of the election being called, all parties will be anxiously awaiting the first significant opinion poll since the collapse of the Coalition last week.
The 'Sunday Independent' poll, conducted by Millward Brown Lansdowne, is the first since Mr Cowen's resignation as Fianna Fail leader.
Meanwhile, Mr Cowen gave his clearest indication yet he will not run in the general election as he said he would make his decision over the weekend.
"I just have to reflect. Our family has to have a chat about what is the future.
"I have had the great privilege of working at every level of the organisation of Fianna Fail since I was a very young man. I reached the leadership of Fianna Fail and had the great honour and privilege of being Taoiseach of Ireland and I now have to consider what direction my life will take after but politics will always be a part of it," he said.
The Seanad last night passed the second stage of the Finance Bill and is due to pass all stages tonight unless amendments were accepted, which would mean the bill would have to go back to the Dail.
The Dail is on standby to convene at 8pm this evening if needed.