FINE GAEL is on course to take three seats in Cork South Central, dealing a hammer blow to Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin’s hopes of bringing in his running mate.

An Irish Examiner-Red C poll reveals sitting Fine Gael TD Simon Coveney is set to top the poll, relegating Mr Martin to second place for the first time since the 1992 election.

The body blow to Mr Martin comes as a separate poll shows national support for Fianna Fáil has crumbled to 12%, down four points since the start of the campaign and indicating that the Fianna Fáil leader has failed to turn the party’s fortunes around.

The Irish Examiner-Red C poll shows Fine Gael is set to be the big winner in Mr Martin’s backyard, increasing its number of TDs in the five-seat constituency from two to three.

Such a gain is seen as crucial to Fine Gael’s hopes of breaking the 70-seat mark and coming within reach of forming a single-party government with the support of Independents.

Mr Coveney is set to be elected on the first count, and his surplus will help return his fellow TD Deirdre Clune and also get the party’s third candidate, Senator Jerry Buttimer, across the line.

Labour TD Ciarán Lynch will also be re-elected, according to the poll.

The big casualty will be sitting Fianna Fáil TD Michael McGrath, who looks set to lose his seat as a result of his and the party’s vote plunging dramatically since the last election in 2007.

If Mr Martin proves unable to bring in a running mate in his own constituency, it would bode ill for Fianna Fáil’s chances of containing the damage nationwide.

The poll shows Fianna Fáil support in the constituency is down from 44% in the 2007 election to just 27% now.

This is still far ahead of the party’s support levels nationwide — a fact attributable to Mr Martin’s popularity in his own constituency — but is unlikely to be enough to save the second seat.

Fine Gael is up from 28% in 2007 to 36% now, while Labour also rises, from 9% last time to 18% in this election.

Sinn Féin rises from 5% to 8% and Independents go from 2% to 8%. But the Green Party is down from 8% in 2007 to 3%.

Support for candidates shows: Simon Coveney (FG) on 19%; Micheál Martin (FF) on 18%; Ciarán Lynch (Lab) on 14%; Michael McGrath (FF) on 9%; Jerry Buttimer (FG) on 9%; Deirdre Clune (FG) on 8%; Chris O’Leary (SF) on 8%; Paula Desmond (Lab) on 5%; Michael Finn (Ind) on 5%; Dan Boyle (GP) on 3%; David McCarthy (Ind) on 2%.

Analysis of transfer patterns indicates that the five successful candidates will be elected as follows: Simon Coveney, Micheál Martin, Ciarán Lynch, Deirdre Clune and Jerry Buttimer.

The telephone poll was conducted between February 9 and February 11 through a representative constituency sample of 500 people who intend to vote in the election in Cork South Central. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.5%.

Meanwhile, the Irish Independent-Millward Brown Lansdowne poll shows Fianna Fáil at just 12% nationwide, down four since the previous poll. Fine Gael is on 38% (+8); Labour 23% (-1); the Greens 1% (no change); Sinn Féin 10% (-3); and Independents and others 16% (+1).

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