Fine Gael pays the price
Fianna Fáil candidates for the local and European elections will be heartened by the findings of the latest Irish Times /IpsosMRBI opinion poll that show the party to be level with Fine Gael in terms of popular support and four points clear of Sinn Féin. With seven weeks to go until the elections, the party is well placed to recover some of the seats it lost in 2009, but it continues to face serious problems in Dublin.
A succession of controversies involving the Garda Síochána and the manner in which Minister for Justice Alan Shatter dealt with them has had a significant effect on approval ratings for both Fine Gael and the Government. Satisfaction with the Government has fallen by four points to 26 per cent since December, wiping out the gains it made on exiting the EU-IMF bailout. Support for Fine Gael dropped by five points to 25 per cent. Labour Party support dropped by just one point to 9 per cent but, at that level, many of its candidates face an uncertain future.
There will be some concern within Sinn Féin over the party’s failure to make ground on this occasion. But the security issues at the heart of recent controversies and its own historical baggage may account for the drift of dissatisfied voters towards Fianna Fáil and Independent candidates. Paradoxically, approval for Gerry Adams jumped by six points to 33 per cent, making him the most popular party leader.
The strong showing of Independent candidates is likely to have a profound effect on the election results. Public support for this disparate group equals that for Sinn Féin and lags behind Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil by only four points. Traditional voting patterns have been crushed with four, almost equivalent, political blocs emerging. If discipline is shown, in terms of voting transfers, Independents could do very well. The Labour Party has become detached from the front-runners, with a support level of only 8 per cent nationally.
The Government parties may look to Dublin for some relief. Unlike the situation in other parts of the country, Fine Gael support increased by a single point while that of the Labour Party remained steady. The gains that were made here flowed towards Independents, while support levels for both Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil actually declined. On those figures, Fianna Fáil will find it extremely difficult to regain a European Parliament seat in the capital. With almost one-third of the electorate unwilling to vote or undecided about their intentions, all parties have an opportunity to improve their situations during the coming weeks. Fine Gael and the Labour Party will be anxious to draw attention to the jobs created and the economic progress made, while Opposition politicians can be expected to concentrate on the Government’s inept handling of security matters.