Poll reveals thriving FG but little joy for listless Labour

Opinion: Popularity of Noonan out of line with fate of previous finance ministers who introduced harsh budgets

Michael Noonan has reasons to be cheerful, the Labour Party perhaps less so on the poll figures so far. Photograph: PA

Michael Noonan has reasons to be cheerful, the Labour Party perhaps less so on the poll figures so far. Photograph: PA

Sun, Dec 15, 2013, 00:01

There are different messages for the two Government parties in this week’s Irish Times Ipsos MRBI poll. For Fine Gael it is almost all good but for the Labour Party a welcome rise in support is tempered by some worrying undertones.

The encouraging aspect of the poll for Fine Gael is not simply that the party has jumped four points to 30 per cent, but that party supporters are behind Government strategy on the bailout and have complete confidence in Enda Kenny as leader.

Fine Gael supporters are far more supportive of the Coalition’s economic strategy than those of Labour and a full 70 per cent of them are confident that economic conditions will improve from now on.

A surprise finding is that when voters were asked who should get credit for the bailout exit Fine Gael comes in second place, after the Irish people, but ahead of the Government. Labour as a party gets virtually no credit.

The assured performance of Minister for Finance Michael Noonan must have something to do with this identification of Fine Gael in the public mind with the bailout exit. Noonan is now in joint first place in terms of public satisfaction with Cabinet Ministers.

Given that he has inflicted three “austerity” budgets on the Irish public since taking office this is some achievement. In the past during tough times the Minister for Finance usually became the scapegoat for the government of the day.

Ernest Blythe’s budgets were still a source of political taunts half a century after he took a shilling off the old age pension in 1924. Richie Ryan was lumbered with the “Richie Ruin” tag for his performance in the 1970s and Alan Dukes had to take the brunt of the public reaction to tough budgets in the 1980s.

Likeable character
By contrast the public has come to regard Noonan as a witty, avuncular figure who can put complex economic problems into a language they understand. He is trusted as the politician who knows how to steer the country out of the mess while not taking troika diktats lying down.

At the age of 70, the man who burst on to the political scene 30 years ago as Minister for Justice, has confounded the axiom that all political careers end in failure. The double act of Kenny and Noonan has given Fine Gael a level of popularity and credibility in Government that has surprised even themselves.

When they took office in March 2011 Ministers in both Government parties braced themselves for protests, unpopularity and likely rejection at the next general election. But the political climate has remained far more benign than expected, due to a mixture of political skill, good luck and mature acceptance by a majority of the electorate of the need to endure short-term pain for the long-term good of the country.

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