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Coalition suffers blow in latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll

Inside Politics: Picture is dimmer again for Fine Gael and Leo Varadkar

Good morning.

Last month when Sinn Féin put down a motion of no confidence in Simon Coveney over his handling of the Zapponegate affair, it raised some eyebrows. There were still threads unravelling to the saga: Freedom of Information requests submitted, committee appearances to be endured by those involved, correspondence to be sent – plenty of chances for more complicating issues to emerge.

Setting down the motion ensured that no matter what emerged, the party had used up its shot at a no confidence motion in Coveney. Also, while uncomfortable for the Government, it neatly sutured the story, at the cost of one unruly backbencher. The Government rallied behind Coveney and the story more or less burned out. The loss of a rebel backbencher was probably a price worth paying, many muttered, observing that in the round it might help Micheál Martin, who faced one less vote of no confidence in him if that moment arises.

However, what it did give Sinn Féin was a whole sequence of news cycles dominated by their talking points: that Fine Gael stood for the insiders, for the elite and for cronyism. Sure, a better opportunity may have emerged later, but this was bird-in-the-hand territory. Going on the evidence of this morning's poll – a miserable result for Fine Gael – the gambit paid off in spades. Polls are never down to just one thing, but the long-running saga of summer must have played a role here, and Fine Gael's inability to tackle it seems to have injured them badly.

Sinn Féin now enjoy a 10-point lead over their rivals, who have fallen five points to 22 per cent. The picture is, perhaps, dimmer still for Leo Varadkar, who is down 13 points to 43 per cent. His popularity had already come down from its pandemic-era highs, settling in and around the mid-50s. This is a further blow if he had been hoping to hold steady at that level, which put him firmly above other party leaders. Meanwhile, Government satisfaction has slumped seven points to 46 per cent. Today will be a blow for the Coalition, and one felt particularly by Fine Gael and Varadkar.

It points to a few issues, which are wider than the most recent controversy of Zapponegate. Sinn Féin now stands a good chance of consolidating their position as the most popular party in the State, in polling terms. It also suggests that there is no lasting polling dividend for the Government from exiting the acute phase of the Covid crisis (presuming that is what we’re seeing). Most importantly, it provokes more fundamental questions for the Government: in the face of mounting quality of life issues – housing, childcare, inflation – especially in energy prices, what can it do to arrest the slump for the establishment parties?

Explore our latest poll in full here.

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Our lead is dedicated to the poll.

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Playbook

The main political action is the Cabinet meeting around 4pm, with an announcement on tax expected afterwards.

Heather Humphreys is taking oral questions with her social protection hat on at 9am, before Roderic O'Gorman is on his feet at 10.30am. Leaders' Questions follows at midday, with Sinn Féin, Labour, People Before Profit-Solidarity and the Regional Group. Questions on promised legislation precedes statements on the recovery and reopening of tourism and aviation at lunchtime. Then topical issues shortly after 4pm, and a private members' Bill – the Broadcasting (Amendment) (Protection of Journalists) Bill 2019.

The Seanad sits at 10.30am, and hears the committee stage of the Criminal Justice (Smuggling of Persons) Bill 2021 at 1pm before adjourning at 2pm.

The Transport Committee is hearing from Pádraig Ó Céidigh, chairman designate of the Shannon Group, at 9.30am, while down the hall at the same time, the Public Accounts Committee is meeting with the National Treasury Management Agency on the Ireland-Apple escrow fund, among other matters. The joint Committee on Disability Matters hears from advocates in the area, also at 9.30am. The Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement is hearing from Coiste na nIarchimí and the Community Foundation for Ireland at 1.30pm, and the Committee on Key Issues affecting the Traveller Community is hearing from advocacy groups and the Simon Communities at the same time. Officials from the Department of the Environment are in front of their committee at 5.30pm.

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