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Fine Gael general election win hinges on regaining former strongholds, says Kenny

FINE Gael's hopes of leading a Rainbow Coalition into Government after next year's general election will hinge on the party recovering critical lost ground in its former strongholds of Dublin and Cork.

The admission from party leader Enda Kenny came as he insisted that recent opinion polls have not accurately assessed the party's growing grassroots strength.

Mr Kenny said Fine Gael's performance in marginal constituencies would be crucial for the general election in 2007 - with former party standard-bearers like Deirdre Clune now central to that battle.

Cllr Clune - a daughter of former Tanaiste Peter Barry - lost her Cork Dail seat by an agonising 41-vote margin in 2002, interrupting a three-generation Dail dynasty by the Barry family.

Now, Mr Kenny said, the election of candidates like Cllr Clune symbolises the battle by Fine Gael to win back support in its former heartlands.

"I can guarantee you that Fine Gael will fight the next general election like the party has never fought before," he said.

Cllr Clune said she was determined to win back her seat in Cork South Central - and stressed that recent national opinion polls did not take into account local constituency issues or the calibre of individual candidates.

Mr Kenny stressed that it will now be crucial for the party to regain the strong position it once had in Dublin and Cork.

In Cork, Fine Gael once boasted up to 10 of the 20 seats on offer throughout the five constituencies.

However, the party's Cork contingent was annihilated in the 2002 general election, which resulted in only five Fine Gael TDs being returned - a near-halving of its Dail share.

The most painful electoral performance came in Cork South West where even the old Michael Collins factor deserted the party and they dropped the second seat they had held for generations.

Cork, like Dublin, is now one of the major factors in Fine Gael's electoral calculations and Mr Kenny has now visited Leeside more than 26 times in just over 12 months.

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"Cork is critical to Fine Gael - to be honest, it always was. We intend to be in with a real chance of taking back seats all throughout Cork.

"Fine Gael is there to offer people a change and a real alternative. That's the message we are working to get across," he said.

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