Taoiseach Leo Varadkar intends to continue leading Fine Gael from the opposition benches if voted out of office next weekend.
r Varadkar’s party are facing an uphill battle to retain power after the latest opinion polls suggested Fine Gael are on course for one of their worst election results in history.
While the Taoiseach believes his candidates still have time to turn the tide, he accepts that life on the opposition benches could be looming.
In an interview to be aired on ‘Sky News’, Mr Varadkar said he wants stay in politics and lead Fine Gael regardless of the outcome in the election.
“If my party wants me I’ll continue to be leader of the party and if needs be, be leader of the opposition. I’ve energy for this, I’ve a hunger for it, we’ve started so many things that I really want to see through,” he said.
“Let’s be honest, what would happen if Fianna Fáil or Sinn Féin lead the next Government - certainly with Fianna Fáil every time in my lifetime that they’ve got into power there’ll be a boom and bust and Fine Gael will be here to pick up the piece but please let’s not make that mistake again.”
The 41-year-old added: “Even if we end up in a scenario where Fine Gael is not part of the next government, assuming I hold my seat I’ll still be a constituency TD for Dublin West and it’s a huge honour to represent the area that I grew up in and I want to continue to do that at the very least.”
The latest Red C poll published in today's ‘Business Post’ recorded a surge in support for Sinn Féin heading into the final week of campaigning - with the party level with Fianna Fáil, and ahead of Fine Gael for the first time.
Fianna Fail is on 24pc (down 2 points) as is Sinn Féin (+5), with Fine Gael on 21pc (-2). Among the other parties, Labour is on 5pc (+1), the Greens are on 7pc (-1), and Independents on 12pc (-2).
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin told Independent.ie today that he would not rule out entering into a confidence and supply arrangement with Fine Gael if Leo Varadkar's party was in opposition as the smaller of the two parties.
But Mr Varadkar said: “We have to bear in mind the future is informed by the past. It’s only two years since we balanced the books.
“I think he likes people to forget that he was in government for 14 years. I certainly haven’t been in for that long.
“The idea that Micheal Martin represents change is a bit of a try on for me quite frankly.”
Mr Varadkar also told ‘Sky News’ that he feels a lot of the election campaign has involved “personal comments” about him.
“Everything from the fact that I’m mixed race to my sexual orientation to my personality to perceptions about my social class and I don’t think the election is about me. The election is about 4.5 million Irish citizens, the fact that people feel the need to criticise me personally or attack me personally, I think is a cover for the fact that they have very little to offer.
“They don’t want to talk about their policies and something that is so obvious about this election to me is the extent to which Fianna Fáil have come unstuck on policy,” he said.
The Taoiseach was also asked Anglo-Irish relations, insisting he has a good relationship with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
However, he doubled down on controversial comments about the need for Britain to realise it is a small country now.
“I think sometimes you have to tell it like it is,” he said, adding: “The United Kingdom is not in the top 20 countries in the world in terms of population. That’s a fact.
“But it is in terms of economy and many other aspects.
“It is in the top 10 in terms of economy – but everyone knows the world is changing.”
Meanwhile, Mr Varadkar has said Fianna Fail has "a lot of backwoodsmen," who would slow social progress, while canvassing in Athlone this afternoon.
Despite just moments earlier saying social class had no place in Irish politics, the Taoiseach used the term, which typically describes rural dwellers as uncouth or backward.
Mr Varadkar was responding to comments made by Michéal Martin in an interview with the Sunday Independent, where he described Fine Gael as being out of touch with working-class people.
The Taoiseach hit back at Martin, saying it was "a really unfortunate thing that in the last couple of years, particularly the past couple of months some parties have tried to inject class politics into Irish politics.
He said he was "sorry that Fianna Fail are trying to pit the working class against the middle class".
"That is not our agenda, and I wouldn't like to see that kind of agenda at the top of government."
Moments later when asked by reporters if both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail's staunch criticism of Sinn Fein had backfired the Taoiseach said:
"Other parties talk about change, but we have been the ones who have been driving it through, and we want to finish it.
"And if we have a Fianna Fail led government, I have no doubt that the social progress we have seen in recent years will not continue.
"There are a lot of backwoodsmen in Fianna Fail that would slow down social progress.
"The referendum would not have happened had Fianna Fail been in office."
Fianna Fáil has been contacted for comment.
Speaking while canvassing in Athlone Varadkar described a possible coalition government of Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein as "double trouble."
"There is real and growing risk that the next government will be led by Fianna Fail or Sinn Fein or maybe ever two of them together. The double trouble option if you like.
"And that is really dangerous for our economy, for jobs. People have worked so hard over the past few years to get the country to where it is now, and a government led by Fianna Fail or Sinn Fein or both of them is going to be really bad for our economy. And that puts people's jobs, people's incomes, people's livelihoods, people's business at threat. So it's a big decision for the public to make."
The Taoiseach said he would welcome Mary Lou McDonald's inclusion in the next televised debate.
"I have never had any objection to including Mary Lou McDonald in the debate. I've made that clear from the very start. It is a matter for the broadcaster, so it's their decision to make.
"It would be useful to take such an opportunity to scrutinise Sinn Fein's policies a bit more. "The four billion euro tax they intend to on Irish businesses, jobs, pensions, property, wealth something that would be hugely detrimental to our economy, as bad as what FF were when they were in power."
"And it is also a fact that notwithstanding what vote Sinn Fein gets in this election that they don't have enough candidates to lead a government. So the choice about who leads the government is between Micheal Martin and Fine Gael and Fianna Fail."