Enda Kenny's five-day ground war to swing key vote
POLL: Martin in race to be Taoiseach as Fianna Fail rises
Published 21/02/2016 | 02:30
Enda Kenny is launching a five-day 'ground war' to sell a message of stability and get back into power.
Fine Gael strategists are depending on a last-minute swing by voters as they try to "humanise" the idea of economic recovery and inject new passion into their campaign.
It comes as Fianna Fail continues to close the gap on the government party, according to a Sunday Independent/Millward Brown opinion poll.
The poll indicates a Grand Coalition of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail is now the most likely result - with Micheal Martin a significantly more popular leader.
Fine Gael is still the largest party on 27pc, but is now just four points ahead of Fianna Fail (23pc) as Ireland prepares to decide on Friday.
The satisfaction rating of Micheal Martin (40pc) has soared by 13 points in two weeks to its highest ever level and shows him as the most popular political leader in the country.
Dissatisfaction with Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny (66pc) increased four points since the campaign officially began and dissatisfaction with Labour leader Joan Burton (69pc) is up seven points.
The poll was limited to registered voters who say they are either "certain" or "likely" to vote.
If this trend continues until polling day, the possibility of an electoral upset cannot be ruled out.
Fine Gael sources last night said they could still break the 30pc mark by "ramping up the pace" over the coming days.
Ministers will be rolled out "to humanise the message of economic recovery, show passion and hold the other parties to account".
They noted that 27pc of voters still say they are looking towards Independents and smaller parties but nobody can predict where their transfers will go. "We feel it's turning back towards us, but it hasn't quite turned yet," said a source.
In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Independent, Mr Kenny accepted people might have not fully appreciated the message about keeping the recovery going, because a lot of people weren't feeling the recovery.
"I admit that, of course, and I understand that," he said.
"You need warmer language around it. Rather than just saying, like your economy is the be all and end all," he said.
"I go back to my three roots that I've often said about this being the best country for business, the best to raise a family in, and the best to grow old in with a sense of dignity and respect."
He still insisted that his party would form a coalition with Labour.
"So I am very clear in my mind, that I say to the people, I have always trusted the people's decision and I believe that the kind of Ireland that I want to see can be delivered by the government that is in situ.
"It's the people's choice and I'm not going beyond that. And for me the return of Fine Gael and Labour … there is a programme there that will change this country for the better."
But as things stand, this weekend, the most likely election outcome in terms of stable government formation is an historic coalition between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail.
Last night, Fianna Fail sources told the Sunday Independent that the party would "step up to the national interest" and work with Fine Gael in "some way" if Sinn Fein and far-left TDs looked to form a government.
"There will be difficult choices but Micheal Martin is clear about one thing - the centre has to hold," a source said.
The poll also finds that, in the event of a deadlocked Dail, more people would prefer a new election (33pc) ahead of a Fine Gael/Fianna Fail coalition (24pc).
However, 38pc of both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail supporters are in favour of a grand coalition.
Both parties will this week continue to rule out a grand coalition in a bid to maximise support, but it is Fianna Fail which will face into the final week of the campaign with a renewed sense of enthusiasm.
Mr Kenny is to dispatch a number of Cabinet ministers to neighbouring constituencies where Fine Gael believes they are in the mix for the final seat.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar is to be sent to Dublin North West to help councillor Noel Rock, while Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan will be asked to travel to Tipperary where Fine Gael are in a dogfight to save their two seats.
The Taoiseach will also embarked on "a whistle stop tour" of marginal constituencies on Wednesday for a "high energy 48 hour canvass".
Last night, Fine Gael's director of elections Brian Hayes told the Sunday Independent he is still "absolutely confident" they can achieve 34pc and as many as 63 Dail seats.
Fine Gael remains narrowly ahead of Fianna Fail across both genders and all age groups and has twice the level of support as Fianna Fail in Dublin (30pc v 15pc) with Labour support in Dublin plummeting to 7pc.
But in a remarkable turn of events, Fianna Fail leads Fine Gael in the rest of Leinster and in Munster, while Fine Gael maintains a comfortable lead in Connaught/Ulster.
Fine Gael will be relieved that nearly one in three (32pc) believes the party is most trusted to manage the economy.
This is up eight points in a fortnight, ahead of Fianna Fail (17pc), unchanged, and it is marginally perceived to have the most credible manifesto (21pc) ahead of Fianna Fail (18pc).
But the poll also finds that voter attitudes have hardened on the issues of 'economic stability' and 'a fairer society'.
Asked if a change of government would put Ireland's economic stability at risk, almost half (49pc) say no, up seven points in a fortnight, while a clear majority (57pc) now agree a government change would lead to a fairer society, also up seven points.
The state of the parties is Fine Gael (27pc); Fianna Fail (23pc); Sinn Fein (19pc); Independent candidates (13pc); Labour (6pc), Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit (5pc); Social Democrats (4pc); Green Party (2pc); Renua Ireland (2pc) and the Socialist Party (1pc).
While this poll is not strictly comparable with the Sunday Independent/Millward Brown tracking poll two weeks ago, for relative comparative purposes, Fine Gael is unchanged, Fianna Fail is up one point, Sinn Fein is down two points, Labour is unchanged and Independents/others are up two points.
The face-to-face poll was taken last Wednesday and Thursday among 1,065 registered voters certain or likely to vote at 100 sampling nationwide.
While party support levels show minimal movement, the popularity ratings of the party leaders have significantly changed.
Enda Kenny (28pc satisfied) up one point, (68pc dissatisfied) up six points; Joan Burton (25pc satisfied) up three points, (69pc dissatisfied) up seven points; Micheal Martin (40pc satisfied) up 13 points, (47pc dissatisfied) down one point.
Gerry Adams (28pc satisfied) up one point, (60pc dissatisfied) up five points; Lucinda Creighton (30pc satisfied) up 14 points, (37pc dissatisfied) down five points.