Labour infighting boils over amid fears of mauling in by-election
LABOUR has been plunged back into internal bickering as it faces a by-election that could see it fall to fourth place behind Sinn Fein.
The party leadership is irked by attacks from chairman and rebel TD Colm Keaveney on Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore and the party's performance in Government as voters in Meath East prepare to go to the polls.
Labour is preparing for a drubbing in the Meath East by-election this Wednesday and is hoping its candidate Eoin Holmes can hang on to third place.
But senior party sources were almost accepting of the possibility of a fourth-place finish, saying: "These are by-elections, by-elections have a life of their own."
However, the party's nerves will have been settled by weekend opinion polls, which showed its support stabilising.
The Red C poll for the 'Sunday Business Post' had the junior coalition partner up one point to 13pc, with Fine Gael support holding steady on 28pc.
Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein were both down two to 24pc and 14pc respectively, while Independents were up three to 21pc.
The poll provided some relief for Labour after a poll last week had them on 9pc, dipping below the psychologically important 10pc mark.
But Mr Keaveney launched a stinging attack on Labour's policies, saying it hadn't achieved its main policy goals in Government. He also blamed Mr Gilmore for standing over a "worsening" of the issues the party had promised to protect and improve. His statements angered the party leadership.
"It certainly doesn't help when you have the chairman of the party who is supposed to be supporting Eoin Holmes, our candidate, giving out about the party," a senior Labour source said.
Mr Keaveney did not return calls, and the Labour hierarchy is bracing itself for a heavy defeat this Wednesday.
"We're seeing a repeat of the general election, when people come down to what are the most likely winners, and in this case that's Fianna Fail or Fine Gael," the Labour source said.
"It's Fine Gael's to lose; we were never expecting anything much, which is a shame since we have a good candidate."
The bickering between Mr Keaveney and the party leadership echoes the fallout from the Budget, when the Galway East TD lost the whip for voting against child benefit cuts.
At the time, Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte said the party could not have people "pirouetting on the plinth of Leinster House" and "parading their struggle with their conscience".