THE GLOVES are off in the election campaign after Eamon Gilmore attacked Enda Kenny for travelling to Brussels.
The Fine Gael leader and his finance spokesman Michael Noonan met European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso for discussions on Ireland's bailout package. But Mr Gilmore made light of the trip.
"I am not quite sure what they are discussing, but the negotiation has to be on the basis of a mandate given by the people," the Labour leader said.
"The Labour Party is going to be asking every single voter in this country to give the Labour Party a mandate to renegotiate that deal. The Labour Party has been in contact with our own colleagues in the EU and we have no quibble with that. But let us be clear -- the renegotiation of the deal can only take place after the election and after a mandate has been given to a new government to renegotiate," he added. It comes after Labour sided with Fianna Fail in the row over TV debates.
And in a further squabble, Fine Gael accused Labour of having a "confused" stance on public sector reform.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen has announced he will seek to dissolve the Dail on Tuesday. It is believed polling day will be February25, although Mr Cowen could extend it to March 2.
The rift deepened between the two would-be coalition partners as Fine Gael jobs spokesman Richard Bruton took a swipe at the Labour leader for advocating tax increases.
Mr Bruton attacked Mr Gilmore for "distorting" Fine Gael's proposals on reforming the public sector.
"Fine Gael's proposal is to massively reform the public sector by making it smaller, cheaper and better, thereby allowing us to keep taxes low, which will in turn stimulate the economy and create jobs.
"Eamon Gilmore wants to fudge the changes necessary, and has gone on to distort what Fine Gael is proposing," he said.
Mr Bruton said the Government was spending 50pc more than its tax take -- so it needed to become smaller. He said Labour appeared to be "pulling back" from its promise to slash the public sector by 20,000.
"This will not convince anyone. We need to be honest with voters at this crucial time."
He was speaking in Kilkenny yesterday at the launch of Fine Gael senator John Paul Phelan's election campaign.
Mr Gilmore continued to put pressure on Mr Kenny to take part in a three-way TV debate.
"I will debate with Micheal Martin on his own -- I think it would be a pity if Enda Kenny didn't show up to that debate. I think that anybody who is offering to lead the next Government should be out explaining to people what they intend to do," he said.