Taoiseach Leo Varadkar insists Fine Gael will fight to recover in the election campaign after another bruising poll for his party.
He again ruled out coalition with Sinn Féin, despite a surge in support for the latter party and amid fears that political paralysis after the election could in fact trigger a second one.
Mr Varadkar said it was halftime in the campaign and that his party was losing.
However, Fine Gael’s troubles will be exacerbated after Tánaiste Simon Coveney revealed that he had spoken with Mr Varadkar many times about his difficulty in connecting with voters on an emotional level.
“Leo is not good at expressing empathy,” Mr Coveney told the Irish Examiner.
“He accepts that. We have spoken about it many times. I think he tries to do more in that space, to reach out to people on an emotional level. But, you know, he’s an incredibly intelligent man. He’s a doctor.
“His approach to politics is that he diagnoses the problem and he tries to construct a solution.”
Mr Coveney admitted the election “didn’t start well” for Fine Gael and that Mr Varadkar needed to be “very strong” in the days ahead.
A Red C weekend poll put Fine Gael down seven points at 23%, the lowest under Mr Varadkar, while Fianna Fáil are up two to 26%. Just 12% of voters trust Fine Gael to fix housing and only 14% do for health.
Mr Varadkar said the poll was taken before last Wednesday’s TV debate with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and before the latter published its spending plans on Friday.
“The polls were taken, either entirely or largely, before the [TV] debate, and before Fianna Fáil published its Swiss cheese manifesto,” he said.
“It’s halftime, we’re probably about three points down. But politics is hurling, not soccer. And we’re going to pull this one back.”
He again ruled out working with Sinn Féin, despite its surge in the poll to 19%.
At the weekend, former taoiseach Bertie Ahern said the issue of Sinn Féin in government would be discussed after the election, while Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said her party was interested in speaking to other parties on the left about possible co-operation.