FINE GAEL leader Enda Kenny is under renewed pressure today after a shock poll showed his party now level with Fianna Fáil and a stunning nine points behind Labour.

The results will spark further doubts within Fine Gael about Mr Kenny’s position, as they lend credence to Labour leader Eamon Gilmore’s claim that he can be Taoiseach after the next election.

That election loomed ever closer after a dramatic first day of the new Dáil session, which was marked by several furious protests outside Leinster House and saw the Government’s own survival thrown into doubt.

The coalition last night pushed through an extension of the guarantee scheme to protect the banks and signalled that the Anglo bailout bill could reach €30 billion.

It is set to unveil its final estimate of the cost of the Anglo bailout today in a bid to end the damaging uncertainty over the issue, and is also expected to announce an additional €2bn to €3bn in capital for Allied Irish Bank.

Defending the Anglo bail- out again last night, Finance Minister Brian Lenihan told the Financial Times that failure of the bank would “bring down” Ireland.

But Taoiseach Brian Cowen came under fire from one of his own TDs for focusing too much on the banks at the expense of citizens who had lost their jobs or were struggling with their mortgages.

At a private meeting of Fianna Fáil TDs and senators, John McGuinness bluntly told Mr Cowen that he was a “Taoiseach on notice” unless he and the Government got their act together.

But after a day of unrelenting pressure on Mr Cowen, the focus switched to Mr Kenny after the grim poll results for his party emerged.

The Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll showed the Labour Party consolidating its position as the most popular party in the state on 33%, up four points since the corresponding poll in June.

By stark contrast, Fine Gael was down three points to just 24%, leaving it tied with Fianna Fáil, which was up three.

Sinn Féin were on 8% (down two), the Greens on 2% (down two) and independents and others on 9% (no change).

Mr Gilmore remains the most popular leader with a personal approval rating of 49%. Mr Kenny, by contrast, is on just 25%, with Mr Cowen on 19%.

Four in five people (83%) remain dissatisfied with the Government, indicating the struggle it is facing. But Mr Kenny is now facing renewed struggles of his own.

Fine Gael is likely to point to the fact that the polling company has revised the way it compiles the poll in an effort to claim that the results are an aberration.

But the poll will cause fresh tensions within the party, with most TDs now believing the election will take place within months.

Government chief whip John Curran confirmed that the writs would be moved for by-elections for three vacant Dáil seats in the first quarter of next year.

That led to immediate forecasts of a spring general election, as all three by-elections are likely to be won by the opposition, which would erode the Government’s slim majority and therefore spell its end.


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