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Fine Gael and Labour both claim Finance job

FINE Gael and Labour are at odds over who will become Finance Minister after the general election, with both saying they will insist on controlling the key portfolio.

Senior members of Fine Gael have told the Sunday Independent that based on opinion polls, theirs will be the largest party after the election, which is now expected in mid-to-late March.

They say that with bigger numbers in the Dail, Enda Kenny will insist on the critical finance portfolio during talks with Labour to form a coalition government.

However, Fine Gael will be willing to concede an extra ministry to Labour in order to ensure that it gets Finance. The party's former leader and current finance spokesman, Michael Noonan, is most likely to fill the post.

There has been considerable disquiet within the Labour Party since Christmas over the noticeable 'sidelining' of its finance spokeswoman, Joan Burton, with Pat Rabbitte and Ruairi Quinn increasingly to the fore on economic matters in recent weeks.

"When was the last time Pat spoke on TV or radio about Justice, which is his current portfolio? He wants Finance and it's clear that Joan will never get it," said one Labour frontbencher.

Fine Gael now commands a 14-point lead over Labour in the latest opinion polls. If that lead is realised on polling day, Enda Kenny could be looking at nine seats or more for FG at the cabinet table, with Labour taking six.

It has also emerged that Kenny may look to give the Attorney General's position to lawyer Alan Shatter. The AG sits at the cabinet table, has a garda driver, like ministers, and is paid a ministerial salary.

Recent Attorneys General have not been active politicians, but there is a precedent -- John M Kelly filled the position while he was still a sitting TD in 1977.

Since the Christmas break, deep divisions have emerged within the Labour Party, with a growing number of senior members expressing support for an alliance with Sinn Fein.

There was considerable anger within the party at Eamon Gilmore's poor performance on the News At One last Tuesday over the SF issue. Mr Gilmore appeared indecisive and evasive when tackled by Sean O'Rourke on why Labour wouldn't consider an alliance with Sinn Fein.

There is growing concern within Labour that the party is beginning to slip back in the polls and a fear that it could be outflanked on the left by Sinn Fein.

SF president Gerry Adams said during the week that his party would support Gilmore for Taoiseach in a left alliance. This increased the pressure on the Labour leader.

Also, the Sunday Independent has obtained a letter sent by Ruairi Quinn to large and medium-sized businesses, asking for donations of €1,000 toward the election campaign.

The letter written by Mr Quinn, who is Labour's director of elections, has been sent to thousands of businesses around the country in an attempt to boost the party's election pot.

"The purpose of this letter is to ask you to make a once-off donation of up to €1,000, however any contribution will be gratefully accepted, to the Labour Party general election Fund," Mr Quinn wrote.

"As a former Minister for Finance it pains me to see how Fianna Fail squandered the healthy legacy which the Rainbow Government left them in 1997," he added.

Sunday Independent