Kenny opens door to 'grand coalition' with Fianna Fáil
Kenny denies negative tactics
The prospect of a Fine Gael/Fianna Fáil government moved a step closer after Taoiseach Enda Kenny repeatedly refused to rule out doing business with Micheál Martin.
Despite accusing Mr Martin of "being able to give it but not take it", the Fine Gael leader clearly left the door open to serving as Taoiseach in a coalition that involved Fianna Fáil.
During a series of carefully worded responses, Mr Kenny would only go as far as to say his "proposition" to voters is for the return of the Fine Gael and Labour coalition.
He said he does not "contemplate" doing business with Fianna Fáil - but declined to rule out such a scenario after the General Election.
"I respectfully ask the people to listen to the proposition that we put forward and to make their decision. I have every confidence that they will do," Mr Kenny said at the launch of the Fine Gael manifesto.
Senior Fine Gael sources last night described the prospect of a "grand coalition" as "unlikely" but conceded that Mr Kenny had not closed the door on such a scenario.
"In many ways, the question would be whether Fianna Fáil could get such a proposition through its árd fheis and there are doubts surrounding that," said a party strategist.
But the decision by Mr Kenny to leave the door to a deal with Fianna Fáil ajar sparked a terse response from Tánaiste and Labour leader Joan Burton.
"I think they need to be confronted with their legacy and why people don't trust them to be back in Government," she said.
The comments came as a Red C opinion poll for 'The Sunday Business Post' showed falls in support for Fine Gael and Labour in comparison to increases for Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin.
With Fine Gael on 28pc and Fianna Fáil on 18pc, a coalition involving the two parties now appears the most plausible option.
The issue of potential coalitions will feature prominently this evening during the seven-way leaders' debate on RTÉ.
And during the party's manifesto launch yesterday, Mr Kenny was forced to deny that he was outperformed during last week's TV3 debate by Mr Martin.
"It's not a case of being bested by anyone else, as you say," he said, adding that he has previously been accused of "running away" from debates.
He also denied engaging in personal and negative campaigning against Mr Martin and of being "able to give it but not take it" in relation to criticism.
Mr Kenny said that the current group of Fianna Fáil politicians "don't deserve to be in government" because they "haven't earned their stripes".
"We have every legitimate right to put out during the General Election, from a political perspective, the gross and abject contempt which the Fianna Fáil party had for the people of this country," Mr Kenny told reporters.
"They abandoned the hopes and aspirations of hundreds of thousands of our people. They do not deserve to be in government.
"There have always been good people in the Fianna Fáil party but this crowd have not earned their stripes."
Fianna Fáil claimed Fine Gael's campaign is focused on "personal attacks" and "scaring people" into voting one way.
In a memo to candidates, the party's director of elections Billy Kelleher claimed Fine Gael is deeply concerned about the performance of Micheál Martin.
"They are desperate because of their failed strategies and are now moving to a relentlessly negative attack plan," the memo states.
"If you needed any confirmation that Fianna Fáil's message is resonating with people then look no further than this: would they really waste their time and money on attacking Fianna Fáil and Micheál Martin if they weren't worried about how we were doing?"