Kenny our best asset, says FF as crucial vote looms
Fianna Fáil has privately conceded that the party will lose Wednesday's vote for Taoiseach as pressure grows on Micheál Martin to support a Fine Gael-led minority government.
But senior Fianna Fáil figures have now ruled out seeking the removal of acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny, with one source last night describing him as "Fianna Fáil's greatest asset".
Mr Martin was boosted by a Sunday Independent/Millward Brown opinion poll, which shows more than twice as many voters prefer him as Taoiseach, rather than Mr Kenny.
The finding has boosted morale in the Fianna Fáil camp as the party prepares for two days of intense negotiations with Independent TDs ahead of Wednesday's vote.
In contrast, there is now renewed concern within Fine Gael over Mr Kenny's lack of popularity among the electorate.
Independent TDs have also admitted that Enda Kenny's lack of popularity is a major factor ahead of Wednesday's vote for Taoiseach. They are now concerned that by voting for Mr Kenny, they will face a backlash from their own constituents.
"We'd be voting for somebody that clearly a lot of the public don't like," said one TD.
The Fine Gael leader, who yesterday attended the commemoration event in Glasnevin Cemetery, is due to host further talks with Independents today.
A 2pm meeting is scheduled with the Independent Alliance before a round-table discussion with all 15 Independents at 6pm.
Fianna Fáil is holding separate talks and has drafted in Galway West TD Éamon Ó Cuív to answer questions on the party's proposals on agriculture and rural affairs.
The two party leaders are now due to meet on Thursday if, as expected, there is no clear outcome from Wednesday's vote.
The issue of Irish Water and the future of charges is likely to be one of the first issues discussed between the pair.
Former Fine Gael strategist Frank Flannery said the meeting should be conducted under "Chatham House rules", so that trust can be built.
Meanwhile, the renewed focus on Mr Kenny's leadership is a cause for concern, according to Fine Gael sources.
One minister said the party expected Fianna Fáil to try and paint Mr Kenny as a "liability" in negotiations with the Independents.
"Any focus on Enda Kenny's popularity is not good for us, particularly as this process enters a critical phase," the source told the Irish Independent.
However, Fianna Fáil has insisted that Mr Kenny's popularity is an advantage for their party.
"Why would we want to take out Kenny? The longer he is there, the better for us," said one Fianna Fáil strategist.
A second source concurred, describing the Mayo TD as "Fianna Fáil's greatest asset".
Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil negotiator Jim O'Callaghan yesterday said it was "highly unlikely" that the party would be able to form a minority government without any votes from Independents. He said the party would need to be "realistic", given that Fine Gael has 51 votes, including the support of Tipperary TD Michael Lowry.
"If we don't secure any votes from the Independents on Wednesday, we will see that it's going to be highly unlikely for Fianna Fáil to be able to form a minority government," Mr O'Callaghan told RTÉ's 'This Week' programme.
Separately, a senior Fianna Fáil source last night dismissed the prospect of the party entering into a "power-sharing" arrangement with Fine Gael.
A small number of TDs have privately spoken up for the idea in recent days.
However, former justice minister Nora Owen said little legislation would be passed under such an arrangement.