LABOUR has opted against entering into a vote transfer pact with Fine Gael ahead of what is expected to be a bruising by-election for the junior coalition partner.
Senior Labour figures are bracing themselves for a crushing defeat in the Meath East contest, which has quickly developed into a two-horse race between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail.
Despite being in Government with Fine Gael, Labour will fight the by-election on its own – opting against entering into a vote transfer agreement. The party is also privately expecting a heavy defeat in the March 27 vote with its candidate and local councillor Eoin Holmes – seen as too low-profile to make much of an impact.
"This was never going to anything but a two-horse race. We know we're just making up the numbers," a party source said.
Tanaiste and party leader Eamon Gilmore is likely to play down any massive defeat for Labour as being reflective of the national mood.
The bookmakers have placed Fianna Fail senator Thomas Byrne and Fine Gael's Helen McEntee neck and neck.
Fine Gael sources also revealed that the daughter of the late junior minister Shane McEntee would be assisted on the canvass by some of the "more popular" Government ministers.
"There's no point sending up Phil Hogan during the rollout of the property tax or James Reilly given the state of the health system," said a senior source.
"Helen will have the support of ministers who are the more popular ones in cabinet which is nothing new or surprising."
Ms McEntee attempted to play down talk of a sympathy vote over the weekend, arguing that she has always wanted to enter politics.
"I don't in any way think because I'm Shane McEntee's daughter should hold me back or be a disadvantage because this is something I've always wanted to do," she told RTE's The Week In Politics.
"I will never shy away from the McEntee name and I'm very proud to be Shane McEntee's daughter, but I have my own voice, my own opinion."