By Fiachra Ó Cionnaith
Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin has accused Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin of "putting party before country" by refusing to offer voters an alternative coalition to the current government.
The Wexford TD and senior cabinet member made the claim during Labour's pre-election ard fheis at the Mullingar Park Hotel in Westmeath this morning, in the latest bid to tie the rival groups together.
Speaking to delegates before the widely anticipated general election announcement this week, Mr Howlin attempted to paint the national vote as a choice between stability or a government including Gerry Adams as taoiseach or tánaiste.
He said it was wrong that Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin are "depriving the electorate of a choice" and "putting party before country" by refusing to do a deal with each other.
Noting Labour is the only party either rival has not ruled out entering coalition with "despite what they say about us", he said this proves there is no real alternative to Fine Gael and Labour and the stability the current coalition brings.
Both Government parties have repeatedly attempted to tie Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin to each other in recent months as the unofficial strategy risks damaging Fianna Fáil's vote.
The moves reached a high water mark before Christmas when a leaked Labour billboard campaign showing Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin and Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams as a same-sex newly married couple.
However, Labour insisted the poster was never being considered and was simply a draft that mysteriously made it onto the front page of a national newspaper.
While some in Fianna Fáil are in favour of considering a deal with Sinn Féin should the number of seats won in the election make it a plausible option, Mr Martin has consistently ruled out the idea - making it clear Sinn Féin's economic policies and its highly controversial links to the Troubles and more recent incidents mean the party is not fit for government.
However, in a move seen as being one part genuine and one part a cynical bid to lower Fianna Fáil's own vote, Sinn Féin has failed to rule out the option.
Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin are polling closely in voter support, with both parties attempting to position themselves ahead of each other in the event of being in a position to enter power or to place themselves as the main opposition party in the next Dáil.