Cowen blames decisions on economy for poll result


Taoiseach Brian Cowen has blamed difficult decision on the economy for the Government and Fianna Fáil's unprecedented poor showing in the latest Irish Times/TNS mrbi opinion poll. 

The Labour Party has passed out Fianna Fáil for the first time since polling began, according to the poll, which reveals that support for the main Government party has almost halved since the last election.

Fianna Fáil has now slumped into third place behind Fine Gael and the Labour Party in the wake of its plan to make savings of €2 billion this year, through a public service pensions levy and a range of cost-cutting measures.

The poll also shows that a substantial majority of voters would now like to see a change of Government with 62 per cent favouring a change and 28 per cent opposed to it.

The Government’s satisfaction rating has dropped to 14 per cent with 82 per cent now expressing dissatisfaction with its performance.

This is a record low since polling began, with supporters of all parties, including Fianna Fáil and Green voters, now strongly dissatisfied with the coalition’s performance.

Fifty six per cent of Fianna Fáil supporters expressed satisfaction as against 39 per cent who are dissatisfied.
However, Green Party voters are very unhappy with Mr Cowen’s performance, with 79 per cent of them dissatisfied as against 18 per cent who are satisfied. The rating of Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny has dropped by 3 points to 30 per cent since the last poll but he is still 6 points ahead of the Taoiseach. Eamon Gilmore has increased his satisfaction level to 44 per cent (up 6 points) and he is now the most popular party leader.

A Government spokeswoman told The Irish Timesthis morning “the challenges facing the Government are unprecedented, so it’s not surprising the poll results are unprecedented.”

The adjusted figures for party support, compared with the last Irish Timespoll in November are: Fianna Fáil, 22 per cent (down 5 points); Fine Gael, 32 per cent (down 2 points); Labour, 24 per cent (up 10 point); Sinn Féin, 8 per cent (up 1 point); Green Party, 4 per cent (no change); and Independents/others, 9 per cent (down 4 points).

Taoiseach Brian Cowen said he was aware recent decisions would affect the Government ratings but pledge to continue efforts to restore the economy. 

"We are in unprecedented times, this isn’t about trying to court short-term popularity or playing politics," Mr Cowen said at a party event in Mullingar. “It’s about taking the right decisions to keep our public finances in order."

Mr Cowen said the Opposition enjoy the luxury of not having the responsibility of taking tough decisions. He said the Government had delivered huge improvements in housing, infrastructure, health and education over the past five years. "We'll seek the support of the people based on that performance."

A Fine Gael spokeswoman said this is the fifth consecutive poll showing the party as the most popular among the electorate. It now has an “unprecedented” 10 point lead over Fianna Fáil, she added.

“The party is pleased with its consistent showing which we believe reflects our consistently strong leadership on the key areas of public concern at a time of financial crisis and the party looks forward to a very good performance in this June's elections,” she said. 

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore said this afternoon the poll showed there has been a "very fundamental shift" in political thinking in Ireland. “It is reflecting a view that there is more to life than the economy," Mr Gilmore said.

"It’s very difficult to see how a Government with those poll ratings can continue to have the authority to govern and particularly to have the authority to govern in the difficult times we are in now and the difficult decisions that have to be made."

Speaking this morning, Government Chief Whip Pat Carey accepted the poll results were not "flattering", but defended Government policies, insisting they were implemented “in good faith".

“Undoubtedly, we won’t be popular for the difficult measures that are going to impact on people. We will have to take difficult If the legacy of our Government is that we have corrected the difficulties in the Irish finances in the context of the global downturn then I think we can stand with our head high," Mr Carey said told RTÉ's Morning Irelandprogramme.

He said the cost of Government has to be reduced and measures were being taken to do so. “The challenge for the future is making use of the capitalisation budget we embarked upon this week, make sure we try and retain as many jobs as possible,” he said. “We have to embark also on the very difficult path of stabilising the public finances, if we don’t do it now we’ll be here in 10 years.”

Party colleague Ruairí Quinn said Fianna Fáil’s slump in the poll was a “self-inflicted wound".

"A lot of our problems are because of the profligate policies of Fianna Fáil and the Galway tent and the construction industry and the lobbyists and the special interests that influenced Fianna Fáil to go on a contruction binge," he claimed. “This didn’t come from the sky…they’ve woken up to a nightmare, a nightmare that they have created.” 

Fianna Fáil Senator Mary O’Rourke earlier said the poll was “just awful” for the party. “When Brian Cowen spoke to us at the parliamentary party [meeting] he said we didn’t go into this to be pretty or popular because the decisions we’ve had to take are not taken with delight," she said. “When you are elected and there are hard decisions to be taken, you take them and that’s what we’re doing…there will be more unpopular ones”.

The poll was conducted last Monday and Tuesday among a representative sample of 1,000 voters in face-to-face interviews at 100 sampling points in all 43 constituencies before the political controversy about the Government’s plan to recapitalise the banks and the latest developments in Anglo Irish Bank. The margin of error is 3 per cent.