Micheál Martin has said that there is now a “very real possibility to form an alternative government that wasn’t there in 2016”.
He said however that his statement that he would not go into Government with Sinn Féin was “very credible”.
“I’ve outlined reasons why in terms of how that party operates… as I could never be sure with Sinn Féin who you’re dealing with,” he said. “Is it with unelected officials in Belfast who rule the roost, who control the levers of power within that party.”
Fianna Fáil’s first electoral event of the campaign showed a relaxed Mr Martin in composed form ahead of the three-week sprint.
At a news conference at the party’s campaign HQ in Dublin flanked by his director of elections Dara Calleary and candidate for Dublin South Central Catherine Ardagh, the party leader steered clear of manifesto specifics but made it clear the twin pillars of his campaign would be the ongoing crises seen in health and housing.
Attacking one of Fine Gael’s three main pillars of their own, Mr Martin said that Fine Gael can no longer blame the crises in Irish public services on having insufficient finances.
“They excuse every failure, including rising waiting lists, rising house prices and rising homelessness as something they have not addressed because they have no money,” he said.
“Now they have the money but they don’t have the will to do so," he said.
Three years after the Taoiseach said that the housing and homelessness crisis was being overcome it’s worse than ever.
The Fianna Fáil leader said that his party would be running 82 candidates and expected to be “competitive in every constituency”.
“I am confident that on February 8 we will prevail.”
He said that he felt he had “done the right thing” in removing TDs Timmy Dooley and Niall Collins from his front bench over the Votegate controversy, but would not be drawn on whether the pair would emerge on his front bench should he be elected Taoiseach.
Likewise, in terms of his spokeswoman on Brexit Lisa Chambers, who was also caught up in the voting controversy, he said the issue had been “dealt with” by the Members’ Interests Committee. All investigations into the issue have now been rendered moot by the dissolution of the Dáil.
Regarding the spate of violent criminal attacks seen in Dublin and Louth earlier this week Mr Martin said the issue of criminality “deserves a higher and more robust response”.
“There’s a sense that we’re losing control of the State, in particular the age that young people are becoming involved in criminality is worrying,” he said.
In terms of his party’s financial plans, Mr Martin accepted that an €11bn package, as described by Fine Gael, would be required by the year 2025 “in broad budgetary figures”.
“We have been prudent and progressive in terms of budgetary policy. We believe in staying within clear fiscal parameters. How you work within that broader envelope will be the determining factors in this election.”
Perhaps the most exercised Mr Martin became across the 40-minute event was in terms of the incident in Dublin which saw a homeless man sleeping in a tent severely injured as a result of waterways workers attempting to clear an area beside the Grand Canal with maintenance vehicle .
That incident was described as a “national disgrace” by Fianna Fail’s spokesman on housing Darragh O’Brien this afternoon.
He said it was “extraordinary” regarding that “terribly tragic event” that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar had suggested that Dublin Lord Mayor, and Fianna Fáil election hopeful, Paul McAuliffe make a statement on the matter.
“That’s not how I do politics,” he said, adding that the incident “reflects the blight of homelessness across this country.”