Saturday 10 December 2016

Joan Burton staring at end of political career

Tánaiste faces losing her seat as constituents believe Varadkar has been better performer

Published 11/02/2016 | 02:30

Labour leader and Tánaiste Joan Burton beside her party headquarters in the Dublin Docklands yesterday Photo: Gerry Mooney
Labour leader and Tánaiste Joan Burton beside her party headquarters in the Dublin Docklands yesterday Photo: Gerry Mooney

Tánaiste Joan Burton is facing a massive battle to save her own political career, the Irish Independent can reveal.

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An exclusive poll of the Dublin West constituency shows the Labour Party leader has only an outside chance of retaining her seat.

Her Cabinet colleague Leo Varadkar is set to top the poll and could even take his place in the new Dáil after the first count.

Sinn Féin is also set for a major breakthrough with Paul Donnelly matching the Health Minister's 20pc.

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But the poll will send shockwaves through Labour as it shows Ms Burton's vote has more than halved compared with her 2011 performance.

The Millward Browne poll of 520 voters was carried out between February 5-8 and shows Ms Burton trailing badly in fifth place on just 10pc of first preference votes.

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Speaking today, the Labour leader said that the sample was “smaller than usual” and showed “too many undecided voters.”

“I don't think people will make up their minds until very close to the election. We saw that in the UK where pollsters had problems,” she said.

“Polls are part of life for a politician, I read them with great interest.”

Speaking in Tuam, Co Galway, Taoiseach Enda Kenny responded to the threat to the Tánaiste's seat saying: "She's a fighter".

He praised Ms Burton's work at the Department of Social Protection saying she had driven a transformation in its work from "just a list of people drawing the dole" to a "vibrant living entity" that helps the unemployed find work and training.

"I'm glad to see Fine Gael showing up well in that particular poll - not that I have any great belief in them [polls]. It's the 26th is the day and I expect the Tánaiste to fight her corner and fight it well."

Fianna Fáil will be delighted with the performance of newcomer Jack Chambers who, on 17pc, is within touching distance of winning back the seat once held by the late Brian Lenihan.

Read more: Tánaiste's poll troubles bode ill for Labour as SF and FF hoping for breakthrough

Another striking finding is that Ruth Coppinger of AAA-PBP has not been significantly boosted by the retirement of her colleague Joe Higgins.

Ms Coppinger won the Dublin West by-election in 2014 after Patrick Nulty quit as a TD but is now in fourth place with 15pc of first preferences.

Independent Alliance councillor David McGuinness, who left Fianna Fáil after failing to get a nomination, is on 9pc.

Some 14pc of voters in the constituency say they have yet to make up their mind. This means the Tánaiste will be locked in a four-way battle for the final two seats in the constituency.

Based on the figures, Ms Burton will be relying heavily on transfers from Mr Varadkar if is she is to have any chance of getting elected.

The Tánaiste is considered more transfer-friendly than Ms Coppinger but her lead appears insurmountable.

On just 2pc, Mr Varadkar's running mate, Senator Catherine Noone, will not feature - and a massive 43pc of Fine Gael voters in the constituency say they will give their second preference to the Labour Party.

Overall, one in seven voters indicated they would be willing to give Ms Burton their second preference compared with one in eight, who would give their number two to Ms Coppinger.

Ms Burton previously lost her seat in 1997, but has been a solid performer in every election since. In recent days she said she was "very confident" of winning back her seat.

Read more: Backing for Kelly over TV absence

The drop in her support can be partly explained by the fact that two out of three voters in Dublin West are dissatisfied with the Government's performance.

After 'Don't knows' are excluded, just 29pc said they were satisfied with the Coalition's work over the past five years - but 62pc were dissatisfied.

Unhappiness is highest among working class female voters who Ms Burton openly says are a key demographic for her.

Voters in Dublin West have been considerably more impressed by the performance of Mr Varadkar than any other sitting TD.

Almost one in three people believe the Health Minister has been the most effective constituency TD in the current Dáil.

This compares with just 14pc who said Ms Burton was the best performer.

A significant 42pc said the Labour Party leader is the least effective TD, while 27pc said Ms Coppinger was ineffective.

The fact that the highest number of voters in Dublin West cited 'Hospitals/Health Service' as the number one issue that will affect their vote appears to be playing out well for Mr Varadkar.

Connolly Hospital in Blanchardstown has been repeatedly in the news due to overcrowding in its emergency department but it was also announced as the site of the new Rotunda Hospital last year.

Just 10pc of Dublin West voters said water charges was their number one issue despite Ms Coppinger being heavily involved in the anti-water charge protests.

Asked which party was most trusted to manage the economy, 27pc said Fine Gael, compared with just 7pc for Labour. Sinn Féin was the least trusted on economic issues.

Irish Independent

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