SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie has entered the Irish election fray by accusing Sinn Fein of hypocrisy, calling the party “red communists in the South and green Tories in the North”.
Ms Ritchie accused the republican party of “bringing in Tory cuts in the North where some of them could be avoided, but saying they would fight cuts that are inevitable in the South”.
She contrasted Martin McGuinness’s pressure on Assembly Health Minister Michael McGimpsey to meet spending |targets with Gerry Adams’ all-out opposition to health cuts in the South.
Her comments follow a bitter war of words between the SDLP and Sinn Fein in which Mr McGuinness accused the SDLP of seeking money from the British Government to go into opposition.
Ms Ritchie said the claim, which has been denied by the Northern Ireland Office, showed that Sinn Fein’s accuracy could not be relied on by voters.
The last-minute attack comes as campaigning closed in the Republic and Sinn Fein looks likely to double its current five seats in the Dail and gain the status of an opposition party with full speaking rights.
The party’s support has slipped to 10% in the latest poll carried out by Red C for Paddy Powers bookmakers. That is well down from a high of 16% on another Red C Poll on December 3.
However, it is still comfortably ahead of the 6.9% of the vote it gained in Ireland’s 2007 election.
At his final campaign media event in Dublin, Mr Adams urged people to make a stand and vote Sinn Fein for “a radical alternative” to the big three parties of Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fail. They scored 40%, 18% and 16% respectively.
Fine Gael’s score could, if |carried through to the election, make it possible for it to form a one-party government.
In the final days of the campaign attention has increasingly become focused on whether voters prefer to give Fine Gael, with right wing economic policies, untrammelled power, or whether they want its approach softened by Labour. That has probably contributed to a last-gasp squeeze on parties like Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail, who don’t figure in that equation because they have been rejected as coalition partners.
Labour leader Eamon Gilmore used his final campaigning opportunities to urge people considering a vote for independents to back his party instead, to avoid Fine Gael ruling alone.