Labour minister claims support for pre-election pact with FG
The Labour Party has given its strongest signal to date that it is angling for a pre-election pact to be formed with Fine Gael ahead of the general election.
Communications Minister Alex White was explicit in his desire yesterday for such a pact to be formed, saying there was a "very strong case" for it.
He said: "When you look at what we have achieved in Government over the past four-and-a-half years, which has been enormous, I think there is a very strong case indeed for there to be an accommodation between ourselves, the governing parties, to ensure what we have achieved can be built upon in the years ahead."
Mr White said such an accommodation would be looked at by the government partners in the coming months.
Other Labour ministers last night were in agreement with Mr White that the best combination open to the public was a Fine Gael/Labour coalition. They fear that opposition could mean Labour becoming totally irrelevant in the next Dáil.
"I believe in what we have achieved in the last four and-a-half years in Government. I don't see a better combination than Fine Gael and Labour," Mr White said.
Mr White, who was a contender for the Labour leadership last year but now faces an uphill battle to retain his seat, stopped short of calling for a joint manifesto between the parties.
"I don't think we should go in with a joint manifesto; I do think the party will have its own manifesto. We will have to account for our time in office. But we will not be able to achieve things on our own," he said.
"We are separate parties, the honest thing is to put forward our manifesto but that we acknowledge we won't be able to deliver this on our own.
"People will be able to use their transfers in the election to ensure that they get a government that includes some of their views. No one will be able to vote for a party that will be a single-party government, so people will have to look at what are the best options in terms of combination."
Talk of such a pact has taken on extra significance as the election is now at most eight months away and popular support for the Coalition has fallen sharply. Based on current poll numbers, Labour would come in with fewer seats than all of the other established parties and could lose automatic speaking rights in the Dáil.
However, some within the Labour Party disagree with Mr White's view.
Junior Social Protection Minister Kevin Humphreys said he was totally opposed to the idea of any pact before the election.
"I don't think we should be going into an electoral pact prior to an election," he told the Irish Independent.
Mr White's comments come as two Fine Gael ministers have conceded that the party's target to achieve 30pc in the general election and claim 60 seats in the next Dáil has been dismissed as "overly optimistic".
A recent opinion poll, which showed support for Fine Gael slumping by five points to 24pc, "caused great concern and upset" within the party.
At best it is now felt that the party will return with no more than 55 seats, a drop of 14 from its current level and a fall of 21 on what it achieved at the 2011 General Election.
"We had said 60 seats was the target, which some felt was too conservative, but we are now unlikely to get beyond 55," said one senior minister.
"The thing that is worrying is the closeness of Fine Gael, Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil, that causes great problems," said the minister.
Another minister said: "There are a lot of people in Fine Gael who think 60 seats is doable. I am not sure; I struggle to see us getting that. We'd be delighted with 60 seats but not the ways things are looking."