Fine Gael in crisis as support falls for third time in 10 days

Fine Gael’s general election campaign is in crisis as the party’s popular support has fallen for the third successive time in less than 10 days, according to a new opinion poll.
Fine Gael in crisis as support falls for third time in 10 days
Simon Coveney

With nine days to go until polling day, senior ministers last night denied the party was now in the grips of “panic” given the sharp downward trend in support.

“There will be no panic in the ranks. This will motivate people to work harder. We have a very big party and everyone is on message,” Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney told the Irish Examiner.

He said the bad result would instead make the party redouble its efforts.

“The election is far from over, [the] poll shows real risk of a prolonged period of political instability which would put all that we’ve worked for at risk. Look at Spain and Portugal,” Health Minister Leo Varadkar told the Irish Examiner.

But behind the scenes, there is increased unease over the failure of leading party figures including Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Finance Minister Michael Noonan to take control of the election campaign.

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This is because support for the Coalition is nowhere near the required level to be re-elected. Based on these poll numbers, the chances of a second election are now far more likely, as no clear Coalition options are emerging.

According to the poll, Fine Gael’s support has slipped to just 26%, which is a drop of five points in 10 days. It is also a full 10 points below of its 2011 share of the vote.

The poll, which was conducted after the first televised debate of the campaign last week, is a major wake-up call for Enda Kenny who is seeking to be the first Fine Gael leader ever to be re-elected Taoiseach.

The poll shows support for the Labour Party is up one point to 9%.

Meanwhile, support for Fianna Fáil is up one point to 19% and reflects the reasonably good campaign so far for the party.

Sinn Féin’s call for abolishing the Special Criminal Court is one factor in the party’s decline by three points to 17%.

Overall, the Independents and others group have seen their support increase to 29%, up three points.

Within that group, the Independent Alliance is at 5% an increase of two points.

The Anti-Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit group are at 2%, down one point, while the Social Democrats are also down a point and now stand at 3%.

Lucinda Creighton’s Renua Ireland party are at 2%, up one, while the Green Party are at 4%, up two.

Reflecting on the poll, Mr Coveney noted that support for Independents had risen, which he claimed, showed there were still undecided voters out there.

Simon Coveney
Simon Coveney

The campaign would come down to one key message, the minister said, which would be who did voters trust to keep the country going in the right direction.

“What this says is that this election is not a foregone conclusion,” he said. “There’s a lot of work to do to make sure our message gets across for polling day. We can still have a good election. There’s still a lot of confusion on how people will vote.”

The poll was conducted between last Thursday and Monday night and was based on a sample of more than 1,000 people from across the country.

Despite the best efforts of Mr Coveney and Mr Varadkar to play down the bad news, there has been scathing criticism about Fine Gael’s campaign from the party’s former director of strategy. Frank Flannery questioned where the “young leaders” of Fine Gael are in the election campaign, as he criticised the party for being “complacent” in trying to get its message across to voters.

He questioned why young Fine Gael ministers, such as Mr Varadkar and Mr Coveney, were not playing a “dominant role” in the campaign as opposed to the “ghosts of old battles and old wars”.

Meanwhile, Labour leader Joan Burton is facing mounting criticism from within her party over TV debate performances, amid claims they could derail the party’s re-election bid.

After an under-par performance during the four-way TV3 debate last Thursday, the Tánaiste was seen to have been far off the pace during Monday night’s seven-way RTÉ debate.

Senior party ministers who spoke to the Irish Examiner said they are growing increasingly concerned Ms Burton’s public interactions are damaging Labour’s chances as the race enters its final week.

However, speaking to reporters during the launch of her party’s education policy in Limerick, Ms Burton insisted she is performing well.

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