Leo Varadkar has hinted at a coalition with the Green Party or Labour, but again ruled out one with Sinn Féin.
The Taoiseach, during a visit to Fermoy Cattle Mart in north east Cork, said his and Fine Gael’s continued opposition to sharing power with Sinn Féin is a “a principled position”.
Of his own party’s chances in the forthcoming General Election he said that “the situation is that this election is close”.
And he admitted: “Fine Gael is coming from behind but it is close and it is all to play for.
“I look forward to spending the next three weeks getting around the country, putting across a message that we have the right track record, the right team and the right policies to take this country forward.”
On the subject of coalition partners, he refused to give his first preference vote on which one he would like to be in power with.
Instead, he said: “If we are in a situation and believe we will be in a situation after the General Election that we are the largest party will then we are going to want to talk to other parties - except Sinn Féin - about forming a government.”
He said that unlike Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael has a “good record” when it comes to coalitions.
Despite growing support for Sinn Féin, he said the party’s position in the polls was ‘not the issue’.
Instead, he said: “We are not ruling out Sinn Féin as a potential government partner because of where they stand in the polls.
“That is not what it is about at all. It is a principled position we are taking.
He cited the fact that so many decisions are made by the party’s national executive - the Ard Comhairle - as one of the main reasons.
“Key decisions are not necessarily made by elected politicians,” he said.
And he said other reasons included Sinn Féin 's “consistent” opposition to the Special Criminal Court, which the party has said it wants reformed and reviewed.
It is, the Taoiseach said, “a court the we used to lock up some really bad guys, dissident republicans, people organised in organised crime”.
And, he added, “we couldn't possibly compromise on something like that”.
While he ruled them out as coalition partners, he didn’t rule out the chance of being in a TV debate with Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, as well as Fianna Fáil’s Micheál Martin.
But he said it is up to RTE and Virgin Media about who they want to invite on.
“I don't have a difficulty debating Micheál Martin head-to-head,” he said.
“I think it is right we should do that because we are the two people vying for the Taoiseach's office.
“But equally I have no difficulty in doing a debate involving the three leaders of the three major parties but it is a matter for the broadcasters.”
On his poor showing in the opinion polls, he said: “I think what the opinion polls show is that there is a lot of volatility.
“We saw one poll which showed a big swing to Fianna Fáil and another one which shows a big swing to Sinn Féin.
“There will be another pole in a few days time and we don't know what that is going to say.
“It shows the three party leaders are neck and neck and if anything the polls show that I am slightly ahead but that's subject to a margin of error.
“But that doesn't matter.
“We can see there is a lot of volatility in public opinion. There will be other opinion polls. This is all to play for.”
His comments came just hours after the first Irish Times/ Ipsos MRBI poll of the campaign found Fine Gael has dropped six points to 23% since the last Irish Times poll in October.
The Fianna Fáil vote has held solid at 25% while support for Sinn Féin support has jumped by seven points.
In addition, the Green Party is on 8% overall, and on course to possibly winning seats in Dublin.
On the issue of crime, he again spoke of how he understood “the fears and concerns of people in Cork” and around the country about “very violent crime we have seen in recent days”.
He said crime is “very much” what people are talking about on the doorsteps.
But he insisted: “I wanted to know that Fine Gael is the party of law and order. We are a party that is tough on crime, and tough on the causes of crime.
“We are the people that reopened Templemore (Garda College) after Fianna Fáil closed it. And we are the party that is continuing to resource the gardai.
“If we are given a mandate by the people, we will continue to invest in the gardai and continue to tackle disadvantage because that is what is required.”
However, when he called the General Election on January 14, in his 700-word statement on the Fine Gael website announcing it, there isn’t a single mention of either crime or law and order.
The Taoiseach ruled out any commemoration for the Black and Tans or the RIC who died fighting in the War of Independence if they do not get cross-party support.
“What we will make sure is that anything that is done henceforth has cross-party support because we want any commemorations to be inclusive, to be non-judgemental, not to threaten anyone’s loyalties or cause division,” he said.
On the future of Cork’s event centre, he said he is “determined” to see it happen.
“We are as frustrated as everyone else but I appreciate people's scepticism.
“I know people won't believe it until they see the diggers on-site, but it is a project that is going ahead”