The Sunday Independent can today reveal how "rogue elements" associated with Fianna Fail took it upon themselves to try to unnerve the Fine Gael leader, Enda Kenny, moments before the televised leaders' debate in the last election.
In what amounts to an astonishing 'dirty trick', the individuals concerned hired people to pose as tabloid journalists and to ask questions of Mr Kenny which suggested that a scandal was about to break within Fine Gael -- a completely spurious suggestion. It can now be revealed that as Mr Kenny walked toward the television centre at RTE, these allegations were put to him by individuals who were hired specifically for that purpose.
At the time, the then Fianna Fail leader and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern was mired in controversy relating to his finances, and Mr Kenny seemed to be leading Fine Gael to victory.
Mr Kenny's poor performance in the debate transpired to be one of the turning points in the 2007 election, which was subsequently won by Fianna Fail, which went on to form a government with the Greens.
In this election, Fianna Fail and Labour, in particular, are attempting to make political capital out of Mr Kenny's apparent refusal to participate in a three-way leaders' debate on TV3.
Mr Kenny has agreed to a five-way leaders' debate on RTE, but has baulked at an offer from TV3 on the grounds that the broadcaster Vincent Browne was to be one of the moderators.
Mr Kenny has said his decision was based on remarks about suicide made by Mr Browne last year. The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland said Mr Browne and TV3 had apologised appropriately for the remarks and, therefore, the issue was resolved.
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin and Labour leader Eamon Gilmore are to participate in the TV3 leaders' debate on Tuesday. Responding to questions yesterday, Mr Kenny said a vacant chair at the debate would "stand as a symbol to those forced to emigrate" in recent years.
Mr Browne has, however, offered to step back from being moderator, a move which is likely to open the way for Mr Kenny to participate in the TV3 debate.
The identity of the people behind the attempted ambush of Mr Kenny in 2007 is known to the Sunday Independent. They refused to comment on the record, but confirmed the event when contacted last week.
No member of the Fianna Fail election team is believed to have had any knowledge of the dirty tricks.
However, a source familiar with what happened, said: "There is no doubt that this was organised, no doubt that it took place. It was real black ops stuff -- crazy in almost every way."
It can be said with certainty that the organisers are known to be Fianna Fail supporters. There is no suggestion, however, that the tactic was either known about or sanctioned by the Fianna Fail leadership.
When asked about these events yesterday, Mr Kenny did not deny what had happened, but said: "I don't know anything about elements within Fianna Fail. I have no idea about anything that goes on within Fianna Fail."