Micheál Martin has denied his reshuffle of the Fianna Fáil frontbench was in preparation for a general election.
As part of his reshuffle, he appointed Dara Calleary as deputy leader — a position which had not been filled since 2012.
Mr Calleary was also made director of policy development, a position likely to see him take a leading role in developing a strategy heading into a general election.
However, Mr Martin yesterday denied the shake-up of his frontbench was a move to put the party on a general election footing.
The Fianna Fáil leader said: “That’s not the context of this, I think the context is I wanted to give more experience to certain people.
“That will be said but, as far as we are concerned, preparing for an election is an ongoing process within any political party.
“One is always, from the date of the last election in policy terms, in organisation terms and in candidate selection terms, one is already focussing and thinking ahead.”
Mr Martin said he is confident Fianna Fáil can win the next general election as research on the ground indicates the party is in a stronger position now than before the last election.
The optimism came despite a number of polls which saw party support fall, including one last weekend which recorded a 5% drop.
Mr Martin said Fianna Fáil candidates would “provide robust opposition for anyone running against us”.
He said: “Absolutely we can win this next election.
“We’re actually in a much better position going into the next election than we would have been going into the 2016 election.”
Sinn Féin’s Mary-Lou McDonald said an election is now needed and said her party would also be fighting to win every vote and maximise its mandate.
“Micheál Martin may well be preparing for an election, I think we need an election.
“I think the gimmick that is so-called new politics where Fianna Fáil is in government and opposition at the same time hasn’t been good for the political dynamic. I don’t, nor should I, understand his strategy but I do have the view that his concern is very much for Fianna Fáil rather than a consideration of what might be good for the country, so I think we need an election and his reshuffle is an indication that we are moving in that direction and I think that’s a good thing.”
She added: “I think he’s let Leo Varadkar off the hook consistently in terms of what are now very stark failures — housing and health, for example, this week the trolley and homeless figures are outrageous.”
Having entered into a confidence and supply agreement with the Government, Mr Martin said Fianna Fáil believes the next budget must prioritise homelessness.
He said Budget 2019 needs to reflect the gravity of the situation and will be calling for greater interventions to solve the crisis.
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