White to set out plans for tackling threat of Sinn Fein
ALEX White is expected to use the first of the Labour Party leadership contest debates to set out his plans for dealing with the threat to the party from Sinn Fein.
Mr White, the junior health minister, will "lay down markers" on his positions on Fine Gael, Sinn Fein and left-wing parties, sources close to the minister said.
Meanwhile, his opponent, Joan Burton, will concentrate on living standards and the need for people to see some return from the economic recovery.
The Social Protection Minister will also express her belief that the EU will implement a "grand plan for growth", which will prioritise getting people back to work.
The first of five debates for the Labour members, who will elect the leader, will take place in Dublin tonight.
The three-hour debate is split between the deputy leader and leader competitions.
Each candidate will make a 10 minute speech and take questions from members.
Mr White has not ruled out leading Labour into a coalition with Sinn Fein if he succeeds Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore as leader.
"You can't ignore the fact huge numbers of people who voted for Labour are now voting for Sinn Fein. It's tempting to say we don't give a s*** about the Shinners. But you have to say how you will address it," a source said.
Ms Burton has totally ruled out the prospect of entering government with Sinn Fein, due to the party's connections with the IRA and its highly questionable economic policies.
Mr White plans to show Labour members he is a credible contender for the leadership.
"There are a huge number of people who have an open mind," a source said.
The debate comes after a Sunday Independent/ Millward Brown opinion poll found Ms Burton is more than twice as likely to attract voters to Labour than her leadership rival.
However, more than half of voters believe Labour should pull out of the Coalition, if austerity is not relaxed. When asked which of the leadership candidates would be more likely to attract their vote, 35pc say Ms Burton and 16pc say Mr White.
But between them, the Labour leadership contenders appeal to only half the electorate.
Ms Burton receives the backing of 71pc of Labour supporters for the leadership, while Mr White fares better among Sinn Fein supporters, with 24pc saying they would consider voting for the party with him as leader.
In her speech, Ms Burton will point to many Labour councillors and candidates losing their seats or failing to get elected in the local elections. She will say they lost through no fault of their own, but because voters were unhappy with Labour's performance in Government
Ms Burton will say the party had to concentrate in Government on "rescuing the country from economic ruin", but this meant asking a lot of people.
"Now, a modest recovery is under way, and I believe it's imperative now for an equal emphasis on social repair, seeking to restore living standards and make good the losses that people have suffered," her speech will say.
Ms Burton will also add that she believes what happens in Europe is critical to the pace of recovery. She believes the recent European election results were a response to the consequences of the crash and the policies the EU institutions implemented in its wake.