ENVIRONMENT Minister Phil Hogan has demanded an apology from Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin after he heavily criticised the recent electoral boundary changes.
Mr Martin used his Ard Fheis speech last night to accuse Mr Hogan of manipulating the boundaries in order to boost Fine Gael and Labour's seat numbers in the upcoming elections.
In an extraordinary and unexpected attack, Mr Martin accused Mr Hogan of orchestrating a "good old-fashioned gerrymander".
He said the boundary changes – which were ordered by Mr Hogan but independently devised – represented an attempt to "try and save as many of their seats as possible".
"The only thing Phil Hogan has been micromanaging in the Department of the Environment is his attempt to maximise Fine Gael and Labour seats in May," Mr Martin told delegates.
"It is the biggest attempt to manipulate election boundaries in the 35 years since Fianna Fail introduced independent Boundary Commissions," he added.
Before his speech, Mr Martin said that the terms of reference drawn up by Mr Hogan for the commission have led to the apparent manipulated boundaries.
"The terms of reference were clearly designed to give extra seats where it mattered for Labour and Fine Gael to preserve their seats as much as possible," he said.
However, the Fine Gael minister last night accused Mr Martin of "deeply insulting" the members of the Independent Boundaries Commission who recommended the changes that were implemented.
"I expect Micheal Martin to apologise to the members of this commission, who have now seen their professionalism attacked in a spurious manner," he told the Irish Independent last night.
"It's clear the Fianna Fail leader is under enormous pressure ahead of the elections to resort to making such groundless remarks."
Mr Hogan last year announced the abolition of all town councils which he claimed represented the biggest single reform of local government in the history of the State.
Mr Martin used his address at the INEC hall in Killarney to attack Mr Hogan's measures.
"As part of this he has completely abolished town councils. This makes Ireland one of the few countries in the democratic world that will have no elected councils at town level.
"This is part of their wider disregard for the idea of community in policy," he added.
Some 3,000 delegates were expected to arrive in Killarney this weekend for the final Ard Fheis before the local elections in May.
Mr Martin criticised the Government for their "unfair approach" to water charges and property tax.
But he spent a large portion of his speech criticising several members of the Cabinet, particularly Justice Minister Alan Shatter, and he accused Fine Gael of "putting politics above everything" by continuing to stand by Mr Shatter despite several recent controversies.
"Fine Gael can give Alan Shatter all the standing ovations they want but the longer he remains as Minister for Justice, the more they show that they put politics first in everything – even the duty to protect the good name of our police force,"he said.
"This is a government of spin and broken promises.
"Growing more arrogant and out of touch by the day we have an obligation to challenge them," he added.