After a series of opinion polls which showed Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein battling it out to lead the opposition alternative to the Coalition, Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin has said his party's "great challenge" is to "prove conclusively to the people that we can chart a better political alternative than Sinn Fein".
The Fianna Fail leader was commenting on yesterday's Irish Times poll which indicated that Fianna Fail is for the first time in five years the most popular party amongst the electorate. The poll also reveals that, after a two-year nip and tuck battle, Fianna Fail has begun to move decisively ahead of Sinn Fein.
In contrast, in a chilling result for the Coalition that secured the biggest Dail majority in the history of the state in 2011, the poll showed that Fine Gael (25pc) and Labour (10pc) are now supported by little more than a third of the electorate.
But whilst Fianna Fail (26pc) has moved ahead of Fine Gael, Mr Martin is keeping a wary eye on Sinn Fein (18 pc) which has slipped 2 points. A key finding in The Irish Times poll, however, was the seemingly relentless rise in the number of voters who say they intend to vote for Independents/Others (14pc), or who are undecided (34pc), now at a combined 48 per cent.
This finding virtually mirrors a recent Sunday Independent/Millward Brown poll some weeks back which indicated there was a strong appetite for a new political party, grouping or entity.
The Fianna Fail leader was particularly concerned that "at a time where we are trying to change the fundamental nature of Irish politics, to end politics being just about votes and numbers, Sinn Fein is using the Gilmore playbook to try to get into power. Gerry Adams, for all the posturing, is just Gilmore-lite."
Of Sinn Fein's populist positions, he noted: "I have watched Sinn Fein in the North, all they have been about there is getting votes and securing power and they are at the same game here."
Citing his own party's history, the leader said: "We have got to show political parties can change. I have no interest in just winning votes, my ambition is to change the way we do politics, that is the fundamental difference between SF and us."
He added: "The difference between the parties is evident in the mortgage arrears issue. We created a coherent policy. Sinn Fein just occupied a bank branch."
Mr Martin also expressed concern over the "disconnect between politicians and the citizens revealed by the poll results''.
He warned that the Coalition was "so busy talking it does not have the time, or the inclination, to listen to people's concerns over mortgages, over jobs and over crime''.
The Fianna Fail leader added that "the Coalition's arrogance is being rejected by an electorate who signed up for change and got James Reilly's politicisation of the health services and Alan Shatter's arrogance''.
Fianna Fail justice spokesman Niall Collins also slammed the current political tactics of Sinn Fein, noting that it is "taking the exact same line as Gilmore did when he was in opposition".
Mr Collins added that "any party trying to be credible should take a careful look at where the Labour Party are now".