Final day of campaigning marked by clashes

A BITTER final day of the election campaign saw Fine Gael and the Greens exchange angry blows over allegations of a secret deal with republicans, while Brian Cowen insisted he would not quit whatever the scale of the voter backlash against his Government.

As the parties held their final press conferences ahead of a 24-hour moratorium on election coverage being observed by TV and radio today, Mr Cowen insisted he would continue as Taoiseach even if Fianna Fáil suffers heavy losses tomorrow.

He made the comments shortly before figures revealed the exchequer deficit had widened to about €10.6 billion by the end of last month.

The tax take for the first five months of the year was €3.5bn down on 2008, although the figures were broadly in line with government projections, and Mr Cowen claimed there were signs that the recession was “bottoming out”.

But the opposition accused him of engaging in “pre-election spin”, saying it was clear that the economy remained on its knees.

Fine Gael and Labour also insisted the local and European elections and two Dáil by-elections represented a referendum on the Government.

But Mr Cowen made clear he had no intention of stepping down or calling a general election even if his party suffers as expected. He insisted he had no reason to be “nervous” about his future.

Elsewhere, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny was forced to deny claims by the Greens that he had asked the party to approach Sinn Féin after the last election to obtain its support for a coalition government.

Former Green Party leader Trevor Sargent said he had taken a call from Mr Kenny about the issue which was witnessed by Green TD Paul Gogarty and insisted: “I am not the liar.”

Mr Sargent was backed by his successor, John Gormley, who said Fine Gael TD Phil Hogan had similarly approached him around the same time to explore the issue. Mr Hogan fired back, accusing the Greens of a “dishonest, desperate and despicable attempt to rewrite history” as claim and counterclaim continued. But while the Sinn Féin issue appeared potentially more damaging to Fine Gael, the Greens had their own problems to contend with when a long-standing member, peace activist Ed Horgan, interrupted their press conference to protest at the direction taken by the party in Government.

Meanwhile, Libertas performed an astonishing U-turn after earlier claiming that a leading Jewish human rights organisation was “beneath contempt” for questioning the records of some of its candidates.

Less than two hours after Libertas candidate Caroline Simons branded the Simon Wiesenthal Centre as “willing idiots”, Libertas founder Declan Ganley said his organisation was joining with the centre to “actively fight racism and anti-Semitism”.


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