The shambolic Government referendum campaign has been pushed into further chaos in the wake of claims that a key Fine Gael campaign strategy will be to "put the frighteners on the electorate'' if it fears that there is a real danger that the referendum may be lost.
In the wake of a top secret FG party meeting, astonished TDs and senators told the Sunday Independent they had been informed by the party's referendum director, Simon Coveney, that "the Government would prefer to win the referendum by being nice but if necessary we will change tack''.
One party grandee told the Sunday Independent: "We couldn't believe it when Simon said if the campaign is not going well after the first week we [Fine Gael] are going to have to put the frighteners on the public and really spell it out,'' and added, "They have really lost contact with the voters if they think Simon's 'we'll be nice but if necessary we will be nasty' line will work."
In spite of the bullish stance of Mr Coveney, concern is growing within a large section of the Fine Gael party that the "doomed'' referendum on the fiscal compact will be "decisively beaten''.
The Fine Gael 'strategy' will also come as a surprise to its Labour party partners who are already deeply unimpressed by a series of FG blunders in recent weeks over water meters and household charges.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent, one Labour source close to the heart of Government claimed: "Any conversations we have had with our Coalition partners have centred on our intention to run a clear and positive campaign."
In an implicit rebuke of any plan to put the "frighteners" on the electorate, top level sources said: "People want to hear the truth; gross exaggerations by either side will not be believed by the voters."
However, senior party figures also noted that Labour has a "definite strategy to go aggressively after the 'No' campaign if they indulge in misrepresentations and scare tactics" and vowed to "hammer any attempts by Sinn Fein to twist the truth".
One senior figure slammed the "Sinn Fein version of Section 31 which, if Sinn Fein had its way, would silence Patrick Honohan and selectively quote and censor top economists" and warned, "just like Fianna Fail in the past, when it comes to this campaign, Sinn Fein is putting the interests of the party above those of the country".
Labour's plans for a "clear campaign and a positive message" are, however, in real danger of being scuppered by its partners.
In a sign of real concern, last week the Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Mr Coveney attempted to energise their TDs and senators via a series of pre-breakfast meetings with Mr Kenny and an unprecedented two-hour presentation by the Agriculture Minister at the parliamentary party meeting.
Mr Coveney's "put the frighteners on the public" stance was slammed by TDs as being "an utterly dumb thing to say" and "stupid politics".
One politician noted: "It really is stupid politics, this 'we're going to be nice but if nobody is on the train at the end of week one we'll get nasty for week two' will only alienate the voters."
In an astonishing confessional moment revealing the extent of terror sweeping through the top ranks of the Government, several Fine Gael TDs told the Sunday Independent that Mr Coveney had also claimed that if the referendum was defeated, the Government would be "damaged and demoralised coming into the summer and facing very little political certainty".
Meanwhile, at the series of pre-breakfast meetings, Mr Kenny told his TDs that if the referendum was not passed the Government "would lose its moral legitimacy and its massive mandate".