Election fever as Kenny tells TDs to attack Martin's past
Fine Gael will this week launch a full-scale personalised attack on Micheal Martin in an attempt to secure crucial Fianna Fail votes as the General Election campaign gets into full swing.
Party members have been ordered to specifically target Mr Martin and Fianna Fail's "utter lack of credibility" on the economy and to highlight the fact that he was a member of the Cabinet that "fell apart when the Troika came to town".
In a confidential briefing document, seen by the Sunday Independent, Fine Gael TDs have been told to repeat the mantra that "it's the same old Fianna Fail" when canvassing on doorsteps. Strategists insist that Fianna Fail remains the party's "greatest enemy".
And in an astonishing attack on Mr Martin's leadership, Fine Gael strategists will this week tell party members to describe Mr Martin as a "shiver looking for a spine".
The strategy document will fuel a frenzy of speculation around the possibility of Taoiseach Enda Kenny calling a snap election next month.
Finance Minister Michael Noonan added to the rumour mill last week when he became the first Cabinet member to publicly suggest a post-budget election date before Christmas.
In the briefing note circulated on Friday, Fine Gael TDs were told to "relentlessly remind" people that Fianna Fail "wrecked the economy" and to specifically point out that Mr Martin and three other TDs - Willie O'Dea, Eamon O Cuiv and Brendan Smith - were Cabinet members in the last Government.
The "messaging" from Fine Gael headquarters also outlines what the party has identified as a litany of Fianna Fail failings on the economy, policy and gender issues which members will be urged to highlight in rebuttal to Opposition criticism.
"Fianna Fail wrecked this country and we're not going to let them or the electorate forget that," a senior Fine Gael source said.
"During October, we intend to communicate our record and attack Fianna Fail's record and total lack of ambition.
"Micheal Martin reminds us of [former UK Labour leader] Harold Wilson's observation of [then Tory PM] Ted Heath - he is like a shiver looking for a spine."
Fianna Fail's finance spokesman Michael McGrath is also to be attacked for what Fine Gael claims is his mixed messaging on income tax and the Universal Social Charge.
And transport spokesman Timmy Dooley will be targeted for his admission that Fianna Fail is "male, stale and beyond the pale" after the shock resignation of Senator Averil Power following the marriage equality referendum.
Yesterday, a senior Fine Gael official told the Sunday Independent: "We will hit them on the fact that they have not presented or offered any plans or meaningful policies for recovery over the last five years.
"They're at sea on tax, they haven't said how they would add a single job to the economy or how they would reform and pay for better services."
And last night a Fine Gael Cabinet minister said: "I don't see any reason for voting for Fianna Fail apart from party loyalty."
Ahead of the last general election, former Environment Minister Phil Hogan appealed to Fianna Fail supporters to "lend us your vote" in the wake of the financial crash.
Fine Gael's new strategy is aimed at retaining these votes but this time they will remind voters of Fianna Fail's track record on the economy and also insist that Mr Martin has "failed in Opposition".
Fine Gael is currently wavering at around 28pc in the opinion polls and strategists believe they will need to get to at least 30pc if the party is to return to Government with Labour, which is struggling to get into double figures.
A recent Labour Party opinion poll found that Fine Gael (41pc) was viewed as a "good choice for building greater economic prosperity", well ahead of Fianna Fail (25pc). A breakdown of the results found that a surprising one in three of Fianna Fail voters regarded Fine Gael as a good choice to secure the recovery. These are the Fianna Fail voters that Fine Gael is now to target.
The strategy is likely to fuel speculation that Enda Kenny will cut and run after the Budget and hold a snap election in November.
Finance Minister Michael Noonan became the first Cabinet member to suggest the possibility of an early election when he said: "It's either between now and Christmas or it is after Christmas." But he refused to give his preference when asked.
Last week, Mr Kenny was forced to dampen speculation of an early election at a parliamentary party meeting after it emerged that Mr Hogan had told a group of Fine Gael constituency organisers to prepare for a November election.
However, TDs and senators who attended the meeting said it was notable that Mr Kenny did not rule out a November election but instead asked them to ignore speculation surrounding the election date.
The dates being widely discussed in political circles are November 13 and 20.
Asked their preference for an election date yesterday, one Cabinet minister said: "I haven't a clue. Not sure Enda does either."
Another senior minister said: "We have been given a job to do and we should finish," indicating their preference for an election in the new year.
In the Labour Party, the rumours of an early election were welcomed, despite the clear preference of Tanaiste Joan Burton to hold out as long as possible before holding a vote.
"If you have election ground workers in front of you, do you tell them the election is in March or do you tell them it's in November and get them off their arse?" a senior Labour source asked.
But yesterday, former Fine Gael director of elections Frank Flannery urged Mr Kenny to hold off calling the election as along as possible.
"The strength of the economic recovery is now beginning to spread out and affect more people with every passing week," Mr Flannery told the Sunday Independent.
He added: "Consequently and uniquely, time is on the side of he Government and they should avail of the benign economic development as long as they possibly can before the going to the electorate.
"They got it wrong twice before and surely they should have learned that lesson."