Fianna Fáil leader plays down talk of forming coalition with Sinn Féin
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has called on Taoiseach Enda Kenny to take part in a "no-holds-barred" public debate ahead of the General Election.
Mr Martin also insisted that he is "absolutely" the only alternative Taoiseach to Mr Kenny after Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said last week that he had no desire to be Taoiseach.
However, the Fianna Fáil leader was forced to play down suggestions of a future coalition with Mr Adams's party after Carlow-Kilkenny TD Bobby Aylward said a "lot of people in the party" would support going into government with Sinn Féin.
Mr Aylward insisted that he has "very strong reservations" about Sinn Féin but said other party members and some of his own supporters would support coalescing with the party.
However, he added that he would not "rule out" forming a government with Fine Gael.
Asked about the comments, Mr Martin said there was a "very strong centre ground opposition" to going into government with Sinn Féin.
"People are heartened by the fact we are not going into government with Sinn Féin for a range of reasons, not just economic but other factors as well," he said.
However, Fianna Fáil TDs privately said that internal discussions about forming a coalition with either Sinn Féin or Fine Gael had increased as members were anxious to see Fianna Fáil back in power.
TDs also suggested that Fianna Fáil may have the numbers to form a government with the Labour Party and a group of Independents.
At the think-in, Mr Martin said Fine Gael's "fundamental strategy is to hide Enda Kenny as often as they can in order to propel themselves to victory".
He continued: "It will be up to the Taoiseach to be up front and debate publicly with me in relation to these issues, so we can have a fulsome, energetic and active campaign, where political leaders don't go for the soundbites or running for the organised PR opportunities"
He said the party had "learned lessons" from the economic crash and promised not to make unrealistic proposals before the election.
"The electorate will look at the 2011 experience in terms of all the promises that were made and then reneged upon. I think people were taken back. I think it took Pat Rabbitte to explain that's how things are done, apparently," he said.
Fianna Fáil is proposing an independent budgetary office to cost budgetary proposals.
In a speech to party members, Mr Martin criticised the Government for "throwing out endless promises" ahead of the Budget to buy the election.
He said the "one for everybody in the audience approach" to the Budget had reached "ridiculous levels" and would cost billions.
"They keep announcing that they have reached a turning point but the public keeps bringing them back to reality.
"The simple fact is that this is a Government of spin and broken promises, which has presided over entirely avoidable crises and has been deeply unfair in its policies."
Behind closed doors, the party members heard from Fiscal Advsiory Council chairman Professor John McHale, who warned of the dangers of giveaway budgets.
In a presentation on the economic outlook, Prof McHale said the economy was growing but insisted there were still "significant risks", both domestically and internationally.
In a slideshow presentation to TDs and Senators, Prof McHale highlighted "emerging lessons from the Banking Inquiry" and said: "Institutional reforms should help avoid repeat of past mistakes."
He also said the Government should "respect" the new fiscal frameworks put in place since the collapse of the economy.
The party also heard presentations from St Vincent de Paul and Enterprise Ireland.
Mr Martin said the decision to add Seán Haughey to the Fianna Fáil ticket in Dublin Bay North along with the previously selected candidate Deidre Heney was "not personal".
"It's not personal in any shape or form, it's not part of any club or anything like that.
"It's very much a hard-nosed decision based on an objective assessment by the (national constituency) committee of what is the optimal means of winning a seat in this constituency and indeed in any other constituency," Mr Martin said.