Sinn Féin support boosted by Áras debate

THE controversy raging over Martin McGuinness’ IRA past has helped boost Sinn Féin to record levels of popularity.

The party is now the second-most supported in the state, with the backing of 18% of voters, after its ratings in the latest snapshot of opinion almost doubled.

Sinn Féin overtook Labour after the Coalition partner dipped one point to 17%, while the once-dominant Fianna Fáil trailed in a dismal fourth place as its support dropped 2% to stand at 16% in the Ipsos/MRBI Irish Times poll.

Fine Gael remains the strongest party, but its 35% share of support was three points down on its showing in July, with Independents down two points to 12% and the Greens flat-lining on 2%.

The 17-point Fine Gael lead once again starkly illustrates how unsuccessful thus far the campaign of its presidential hopeful Gay Mitchell has been, as he can barely register double figures in the race for the Áras and trails his party’s standing by 25 points.

Fine Gael has concentrated nearly all of its campaigning fire on trying to raise doubts over Mr McGuinness’ claim that he quit the IRA in 1974.

That tactic has evidently backfired, with Mr Mitchell falling sharply to “also-ran” status in the presidential race, while Mr McGuinness holds steady in third place and sees his party become the second-most popular in the state for the first time.

The Sinn Féin surge was strongest among male and less well-off voters, and least noticeable with women and more economically successful people.

A major gender gap has emerged in Sinn Féin support, with the party garnering the backing of 28% of men against just 11% of women voters.

Labour, who have most to fear from a Sinn Féin surge to its left, will take comfort from the fact that its presidential candidate Michael D Higgins has opened up a small but firm lead in the race for the Áras.

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, though, insisted he was not troubled by Sinn Féin’s dramatic surge in support.

“There isn’t going to be a general election for four- and-a-half years and at this stage of the match this Government is not looking up at the scoreboard, we are concentrated on doing our job,” he said.

Though falling back slightly, Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s satisfaction rating remains high at 51%, while that of Mr Gilmore — who has been accused of providing a “dithering” performance — is down 2% to 42%.

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