The Fine Gael leader and the party’s director of elections, Brian Hayes, have told voters to throw their support behind the second candidates in their area to drag them over the line and secure their party’s return to power.
Under the move — which emerged as Mr Kenny was forced to apologise for his “whingers” remark — Fine Gael has told 14 candidates certain for re-election to tell their supporters to back the second local candidate to help the wider party.
And to further underline the request, Mr Kenny and Mr Hayes are understood to have written to local Fine Gael members in the affected areas specifically telling them about the strategy.
The plan is focussed on 14 constituencies including Dublin South East, where Eoghan Murphy is likely for re-election but Kate O’Connell is battling for a final seat, and Cork South Central, where Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney is expected to be re-elected but Jerry Buttimer is not guaranteed to be returned.
However, the high-risk strategy has the unintended potential to drag safe candidates back into an election fight — with one senior party source admitting the “negotiations” with these safe candidates are “delicate”.
The last-ditch change in vote management came as Fine Gael continued to see its poll lead on Fianna Fáil narrow and as Taoiseach Enda Kenny was forced into an embarrassing climbdown over his “whingers” remark.
Less than 24 hours after telling reporters beside cheering party members in west Clare that he did not regret saying some people in his home town are “All-Ireland whingers”, Mr Kenny said yesterday that he now does regret the remark.
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Speaking on WLR FM during a campaign visit to Waterford, the Taoiseach said the remark was aimed at “professional politicians” in Fianna Fáil and not the public, but apologised if there was any offence taken.
However, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin yesterday claimed the comment was an “unbelievable excuse”.
“The economic recovery hasn’t gone to the regions. Enda Kenny doesn’t like to hear that, when Enda hears that locally he gets annoyed. He wasn’t talking about Fianna Fáil, he was talking about locals,” said Mr Martin.
Meanwhile, as Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil — whose party leaders faced small protests while canvassing — continued to rule out coalition yesterday, Labour leader Joan Burton said the country could be left in a “state of paralysis” where civil servants take over for months if a government cannot be formed.
The issue is likely to form a key part of the final live leaders debate among Mr Kenny, Mr Martin, Ms Burton, and Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams on RTÉ 1 this evening.
Fresh from last week’s TV success, the Social Democrats last night lodged a formal complaint with RTÉ claiming their exclusion from the four-way debate is “essentially censorship”.