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Unions slammed for 'interference'

"Murky and underhanded" is how a Fine Gael frontbencher described attempts by public sector unions to interfere in the General Election.

The move also brought stinging criticism from financial advisor and commentator Eddie Hobbs last night.

"The union interference in the election is quite extraordinary" he said. "Clearly they have designed Labour policy because it's a carbon copy and now they come out from the shadows to try to influence the election result. They fear their time is passing."

Mr Hobbs added: "Look at their [union chiefs] salaries, quango membership fees and power during the social partnership process and it's easy to see that this is a kick-back from a regime fearing change by the people voting in a way that doesn't suit them."

The latest row between Fine Gael and Labour comes as the Irish Catholic bishops prepare to issue a political statement that is critical of high-earning semi-state bosses and warns that austerity measures could lead to violence.

But Labour leader Eamon Gilmore, campaigning in Dublin, defended unions that support his party with over €100,000 in contributions.

"Unions are entitled to express their view, just as newspapers are entitled to express their view," he said.

Fine Gael director of elections Phil Hogan said yesterday that the unions didn't like change but his party would reform on the basis of a mandate from the people.

Dublin West TD Leo Varadkar said yesterday that the people did not want a government run by the unions, as was the case under Fianna Fail, and said that Labour in its desperation had turned to the unions for support.

Dublin South East candidate for Fine Gael Lucinda Creighton said trade union leaders "should be worried" if her party was elected to government.

"Jack O'Connor and other wealthy union officials may well dread the prospect of Fine Gael in government as we will not put their interests first. Union bosses may pine for the days when they had an undue influence on government policy. The fiasco of public service benchmarking and the social partnership is the sorry legacy of this cosy relationship," she said.

Another FG frontbench spokesperson, who wished to remain anonymous, said the union action amounted to a "murky and underhanded" attempt to influence the election.

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SIPTU chief Jack O'Connor has declared that a single-party Fine Gael government would be "a recipe for disaster". He said the best option would be "a balanced government", which he defined as a Labour/Fine Gael administration.

Although many unions have strong links to Labour, it is the first time they have organised a campaign of opposition to Fine Gael. Unite and the Teachers Union of Ireland have sent messages to members to discourage a Fine Gael vote.

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