Fine Gael's pre-election campaign plan to woo rural voters
Fine Gael is to launch an attack on Fianna Fáil's record on rural Ireland as opinion poll ratings between the two parties tightened this week.
Enda Kenny's party is preparing a major pre-election campaign which will involve a significant investment in broadband in an attempt to appeal to rural voters.
In an internal strategy document seen by the Irish Independent, Fine Gael plans to ring-fence funds in order to roll-out so-called "next generation broadband" by 2020.
The pledge is likely to form a key part of Fine Gael's general election manifesto.
"Fine Gael believes that the delivery of next generation broadband will enable businesses in key sectors like agriculture/agri-food, tourism and SMEs to drive the recovery throughout Ireland," said a party strategist.
"Appealing to these voters and talking positively about Northern Ireland is key."
The pre-election strategy has the backing of Fine Gael ministers and is being driven by an internal working group consisting of TDs Helen McEntee, Martin Heydon, Brendan Griffin, Marcella Corcoran Kennedy and Michelle Mulherin.
Fine Gael took a similar approach in relation to its small business strategy, which is being driven by a different group of backbenchers.
The party's latest strategy, which will be called 'Standing Up for Rural Ireland', will also target Fianna Fáil's record on delivering for rural Ireland while in power.
"We are not in the business of simply throwing money at problems in the way Fianna Fáil did. Reforming the way we do things is as important as the money," a source said.
The strategy is revealed as a new opinion poll showed a tightening in the gap in support between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.
The Behaviour and Attitudes poll for the 'Sunday Times' shows Fianna Fáil support up four points to 21pc. Fine Gael saw its support drop three points to 24pc. However, the party remains the most popular in the country.
The Labour Party saw its support increase by one point to 9pc. Sinn Féin's support has dropped a point to 19pc while Independents/others are unchanged at 26pc. The Green Party is on 2pc.