Friday 24 February 2017

Parties target key votes in final push of election

> FG plots switch to weak candidates
> FF at war as poll disaster on cards

Fiach Kelly, Barry Duggan and Fionnan Sheahan

FINE Gael strategists are urging voters to back its weaker candidates in 22 constituencies in a final frantic push for an overall majority in today's general election.

But as the country's 3.2 million voters go to the polls, Fianna Fail candidates are at war with the party staring down the barrel at its worst result.

And Labour is again warning against single-party government as it seeks to garner a record number of seats to give it a strong voice in a possible coalition with Fine Gael.

However, several of Fine Gael's big hitters -- including deputy leader James Reilly, Leo Varadkar, Richard Bruton and Brian Hayes -- are advising constituents to give first-preference votes to their weaker running mates.

Internal polling late last week showed the FG surge had led to lopsided support towards well-known party names in certain constituencies.

Letters have been sent out and posters have been put up in 22 of the 43 constituencies over recent days asking voters to opt for the weaker candidate, while giving the established candidate the number two, in a bid to win two seats in many areas.

The orders came from the party's director of elections, Phil Hogan, and leader Enda Kenny.

Six thousand polling stations open today at 7am and stay open until 10pm to give voters every opportunity to exercise their franchise.

After last-minute leaflet drops last night, the party machines will be in action all day in an effort to get their vote out.

The turnout is expected to be up in this general election but rainfall has the potential to affect the numbers who vote.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin appealed to loyal supporters to come out and vote for the party in what he said was the "most important general election in a generation".

But ahead of the party's anticipated nosedive, Fianna Fail candidates began to squabble, rather than working together.

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern last night plunged another dagger in the back of Fianna Fail candidate Mary Fitzpatrick when he wrote to voters asking them to give their first preference to her running mate, his protege Cyprian Brady TD.

Sabotage

Ms Fitzpatrick's campaign team reacted with fury to what they called "sabotage" by Mr Ahern in his last act as local party kingmaker.

Meanwhile, former Defence Minister Willie O'Dea lashed out at his running mate Peter Power for running a newspaper advert which suggested Fianna Fail wanted voters to give their first-preference votes to the former overseas aid minister.

The advert was on the front page of the 'Limerick Leader'.

Mr O'Dea said Mr Power's advertisement was childish, amateurish and dishonest.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny called on voters to turn their anger into action and vote against the current Fianna Fail-led administration.

Tight vote management could see Fine Gael win the last seat in some constituencies -- although it is a long shot it many cases -- and help get the 83 seats needed for a majority.

The surge in Dublin in particular, where the party now outstrips Labour, has lead to TDs splitting their votes with running mates. Fine Gael strategists are hoping they get two seats in Dublin North, Dublin West, Dublin North-Central, Dublin Mid-West and Dun Laoghaire.

"In the places where you'd have a stronger candidate with a quota and half, that should be shared," a party strategist said.

Irish Independent

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