By Fiachra Ó Cionnaith, Political Reporter
Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin has denied Sinn Féin is successfully "stealing our republican clothes" in the lead-up to the election and 1916 centenary, insisting the rival group is a "mafia" organisation which cannot be trusted.
The opposition leader made the claim after suggestions his party is at risk of becoming the "wallflower of Irish politics" because it is struggling to find a potential coalition colleague and is being put under pressure by Sinn Féin in the polls.
Speaking on Newstalk's Lunchtime programme, the Cork South Central TD repeatedly rejected criticisms of his party's plans for the general election, which will be contested with the emotive 1916 Rising events in the background.
Asked if Fianna Fáil is being outshone by its political rival, he said the reality is Sinn Féin is a "mafia" organisation based on "omerta" and is not the successor to the "constitutional republican" 1916 members.
"Listen, Sinn Féin are a mafia organisation…They use a vow of omerta to operate. If you look at the child sex abuse scandals of Mairia Cahill and Paudie McGahon and the subsequent denials you can see how these stories were covered up," Mr Martin told the programme.
"Standing with a megaphone on Moore Street isn't the same as creating substantive policies. Sinn Féin also stand outside police stations with megaphones when one of their own has been arrested.
"In terms of them stealing our republican clothes they have not. They are not a real constitutional republican party," he said.
On Friday, Sinn Féin's director of elections Matt McCarthy suggested his party may consider a coalition with Fianna Fáil should the latter party sign up to the Right2Change manifesto.
However, asked about the potential move, Mr Martin again ruled it out in any form, saying the comments are designed to "send out mixed messages" before withdrawing them for political gain, a move he said is "disingenuous at its most mild".
The Fianna Fáil leader's remarks follow a series of previous criticisms he has made of Sinn Féin's alleged links to criminality, an issue he has repeatedly said is a key reason why he will not consider any type of coalition with the party.
However, after Labour leader Joan Burton said last week she will "categorically" rule out a coalition with Fianna Fáil after months of questions over the matter, a potential Fianna Fáil-Sinn Féin may be the subject of renewed discussions from TDs in favour of the move at Fianna Fáil's Ard Fheis this weekend.