Fine Gael furious at Howlin 'stunt' after it lavished him with praise
Fine Gael strategists are furious with their Coalition partners after "a stunt" by Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin saw them compared to Britain's cost-cutting Tory party.
Senior Fine Gael figures believe the Labour Party minister chose the weekend of their ard fheis to publicly create a divide between the two parties.
His suggestion that Enda Kenny's party could not be trusted to run the country without Labour's "balancing role" caused huge annoyance after a string of Fine Gael ministers spent the weekend talking up the relationship with Labour.
The Taoiseach even took the unusual step of sharing credit for the economic recovery with Joan Burton's party in his televised address on Saturday.
MEP Brian Hayes told delegates the image of Mr Howlin and Finance Minister Michael Noonan was one "of success, of achievement and partnership".
However, hours later Mr Howlin was quoted in a Sunday newspaper saying voters only have to look to Britain if they wanted to envisage a Fine Gael government without Labour.
"The Lib Dems are now out of government and in the first years of the Tories having a single-party government, they have introduced draconian trade union legislation and they have produced taxation measures that certainly inflict the greatest harm on the weakest," he told 'The Sunday Business Post'.
Reacting to the comment, a senior Fine Gael source said: "Labour are all over the place at the moment. They feel they have to bang that drum to get support back from us. (Siptu chief) Jack O'Connor was at it as well before Christmas."
They suggested that Labour would "probably pull a number of those stunts in the run up to their conference this weekend".
A Labour Party spokesman sought to play down the significance of Mr Howlin's remarks, stating that the next Government will be about "finding the right balance between spending increases and tax reductions while maintaining sustainable public finances".
Asked if she knew about Mr Howlin's interview in advance, Tánaiste Joan Burton said: "Well,everybody has been doing interviews pre- and post-Christmas, all of the ministers from both parties have been doing it but I just want to emphasise, as Brendan did in his interview, that the emphasis is on getting this overnment elected because it's good for the country and it will get more people back to work.
"But also then emphasising Labour's unique input into government, which is to bring balance and focus, particularly around employment and around sharing the benefits of the recovery for everybody."