FG fearful McEntee's daughter is facing defeat in by-election
FINE Gael is increasingly worried that it is in danger of losing the seat held by former junior minister Shane McEntee (inset).
Mr McEntee's daughter Helen is the party candidate in the upcoming by-election in Meath East, but sources say sympathy for Ms McEntee has been short-lived, and the party is getting stick from voters on the doorsteps.
She is now under fire from all quarters, with Labour telling voters it can take a seat from Fine Gael in order to blunt the larger party's influence in government.
Rebel Labour TD and party chairman Colm Keaveney – despite losing the party whip and being described as "effectively an opposition TD" by Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore – has asked all party members to support their candidate, Eoin Holmes.
He told members it is an opportunity to dilute Fine Gael's influence, and warned a poor showing for Labour could have "significant" consequences.
However, the contest is still widely seen as a two-horse race between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.
"This is going to be a lot closer than people thought," a source said. "The sympathy thing is starting to wear off."
Fine Gael TDs, who have canvassed in Meath East in recent days, say they have encountered a "plague on all your houses" attitude among voters. This could cause a low turnout, which the party fears could hit its vote.
"Oh I have no doubt it is going to be close – it is going to be really, really close," a TD said. "I'd be expecting a low turnout."
Fine Gael is also eyeing up transfers, in particular if those from Labour go its way, and if Sinn Fein votes go to Fianna Fail's Thomas Byrne.
Meanwhile, Labour chairman Mr Keaveney is canvassing for Mr Holmes. Mr Keaveney lost the Labour whip late last year after voting against the child benefit cuts in the Budget.
He says he sees no contradiction in canvassing for another Labour candidate for the Dail.
In an email, Mr Keaveney said: "The real fight in the by-election is not between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, but rather Fine Gael and ourselves.
"Taking this seat from Fine Gael and adding to our numbers will increase our influence in Government.
"This election will prove to be an opportunity for us as a party to stabilise our popularity. The implications of us not performing well would be significant, particularly as we are close to the beginning of the local and European elections."
Nominations for the by-election closed at noon yesterday, and 11 candidates will be on the ballot paper when voters go to the polls on March 27.