FIANNA Fail leader Micheal Martin was embroiled in a bitter row over his party's links to property developers last night -- after he had earlier caved in and agreed to give up his ministerial golden handshake.
s the election campaign turned dirty, Mr Martin was dragged into renewed and damaging allegations from Fine Gael over his involvement in former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern's contacts with the Cork property developer Owen O'Callaghan.
Amid increasingly bitter confrontations throughout the day, both Mr Martin and Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny slung mud at each other as they entered a crucial weekend of campaigning for the February 25 election.
Mr Martin dramatically gave up his ministerial severance payment -- just days after he had been adamant that he would accept the payment, which is worth almost €88,000.
In retaliation, Fianna Fail accused Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny of engaging in "cynical tactics" and pocketing €220,000 in severance and pension payments while a sitting TD.
Mr Kenny said the question of paying back the money "does not arise".
Mr Martin performed his U-turn on the severance payment after he had come under sustained pressure on this issue over the past week.
Under his belated policy, any sitting Fianna Fail minister who is re-elected will now have to give up the payment.
But the Fianna Fail leader denied that he was indecisive on the issue and had been forced into making the change.
He also accused the Irish Independent of having an "agenda" on the issue of his severance payment, after this newspaper had highlighted his refusal to give it up.
In a further escalation of the bitter war of words, Mr Martin's denial that he had attended a meeting with Mr Ahern and the developer Owen O'Callaghan prompted Fine Gael's Alan Shatter to say that this was "just not credible".
Mr Shatter said a ministerial diary entry dating back to 1994, which came up as evidence at the Planning Tribunal, revealed that Mr Martin did attend a meeting.
"It is clear that Micheal Martin, like Bertie Ahern, has a selective memory when it comes to answering questions on Fianna Fail's links with developers," he said.
Fianna Fail said Mr Shatter had completely misrepresented the facts "as is consistent with the rising number of Fine Gael attacks on Micheal Martin".
A spokesman said Mr Shatter's account was "completely and deliberately factually wrong".
"The relevant diary entry refers to an 'M Martin'. The tribunal asked if it was Micheal Martin that was referred to and accepted evidence that it was not him," the spokesman said.
"The question arises why something which was comprehensively reported three-and-a-half years ago and which was disposed of by the tribunal without any issues remaining is being twisted in this manner by a Fine Gael frontbencher?"
Mr Martin said he had taken the decision on severance pay after consulting with colleagues.
He said the basic principle was that severance payments should be paid to those who have lost their jobs.
"I don't make policy up on the hoof and I hadn't thought about severance payments up to then, which I think was quite reasonable given the fact that I had just been appointed a party leader two weeks and two days and that was the last thing on my mind was severance payments to be frank," he said.
Mr Martin also admitted he had not yet given up his teaching post, because his former school would lose the post and he did not want to make his substitute unemployed. He said he had not drawn down any salary or pension entitlements since becoming a TD in 1989 and was surrendering the post this year.
Mr Martin called for Mr Kenny to be quizzed about his pension, severance and teaching payments. Mr Kenny said he left his teaching post quite a number of years ago.
"That post has been filled in a permanent capacity by somebody else. I have not made one red cent from teaching in the past 25 years, so I think that the matter is dealt with," he said.
The Fine Gael TD was also quizzed in Waterford on his severance payment when he left his position as tourism minister.
"I can't remember the precise figure. But I think it was around €40,000 over three years, in very different circumstances and that came at the end of a Government that was creating 1,000 jobs a week," he said.
Mr Kenny said the question of paying the money back "doesn't arise".