The poll gave a stunning boost to Labour, which beat Fine Gael to first place – making Eamon Gilmore’s party the most popular in the country for the first time. It showed Mr Cowen’s personal approval ratings down by eight points to just 18%, while support for Fianna Fáil fell by five points to 17%, leaving the party in third place.
But the shock result was the eight-point increase for Labour which put it on 32% and ahead of Fine Gael, which fell by four to 28%.
Mr Gilmore is also by far the most popular political leader in the country, with his approval ratings unchanged on 46%. Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny’s ratings have dropped by seven points to 24%.
The poll will bolster Mr Gilmore’s claims that the next general election will be a three-horse race. But it will cause further dismay for Mr Cowen and Fianna Fáil after a devastating week.
It may also stir further rumblings within Fine Gael about Mr Kenny’s failure to capitalise on public anger with the Government.
Fine Gael tabled a motion of no-confidence in Mr Cowen in the Dáil yesterday following the publication of the preliminary reports into the banking crisis which found Government policy played a central role in overheating the economy.
The Government announced it would counter with a motion of full confidence in Mr Cowen, with next Tuesday’s Dáil schedule cleared to allow a full day of debate on the issue.
The Government will expect to win the vote on Tuesday night, thereby preserving Mr Cowen’s leadership for the time being.
The Taoiseach declared last night that the Government will run to the end of its term. “I am not going to walk away from my post,” he said in reaction to the poll results. He would continue, he said, to make the decisions that were best for the country “and live up to my responsibilities”.
Responding to this week’s reports on the overheating of the economy, he told RTÉ’s Prime Time: “Nobody could have factored in the economic and financial crisis of this magnitude.”
But last night’s damaging results may further rattle already anxious Fianna Fáil backbenchers and prompt renewed questions about Mr Cowen’s leadership. Mr Kenny said “the people who led us into this mess cannot, and will not, be the ones to get us out of it”, while Mr Gilmore said the vote would be “a watershed moment for Fianna Fáil backbenchers who have been distancing themselves from Brian Cowen for some time”.
Government ministers took to the airwaves in a bid to defend the Taoiseach, but admitted mistakes had been made and that Mr Cowen could be blamed. “People can make their own judgment,” Mr Dempsey told RTÉ. “Brian Cowen – you can blame him for leading us into this. But I think these two reports make it quite clear that he is leading us out of it as well.”
The reports’ authors, Klaus Regling and Maz Watson will appear before the Oireachtas Committee on Finance today. The reports were published after 4pm on Wednesday. As a result, the poll, conducted on Tuesday and Wednesday by Ipsos/MRBI is unlikely to fully reflect public opinion.