FIANNA Fail faces the doomsday prospect of losing 20 seats or more in the general election as its nosedive in support continues, a new Irish Independent Millward Brown-IMS poll shows. The depressing picture for Bertie Ahern is compounded by his losses going directly to Enda Kenny as the Fine Gael-Labour alternative takes the driving seat in the campaign.
The Taoiseach heads to Westminster this morning, knowing his historic address to the House of Commons could be his swansong.
But the ongoing controversy surrounding his personal finances while Minister for Finance continues to overshadow the Fianna Fail campaign, the poll shows.
Fianna Fail has dropped three points, to 35pc, since April, while support for Fine Gael has jumped by the same amount to 26pc during this three-week period. Labour is up one to 13pc; the PDs are down one to 3pc while the Greens are down 1pc (to 5pc) and Sinn Fein are up 2pc to 10pc. Independents and others remain on 8pc.
The poll also shows a Fine Gael-Labour coalition is becoming increasingly popular as a preferred government after the election.
Support for Fine Gael-Labour has increased from 35pc to 39pc, while Fianna Fail/PD has dropped from 42pc to 38pc.
The poll also reveals, for the first time, that the payments controversy is damaging trust in the Taoiseach.
Some 47pc of those surveyed said they had less trust in Mr Ahern as a result of the revelations about the money he received in the early 1990s.
Just 7pc said they trusted him more and 41pc said it did not change their view.
The poll was conducted before the Taoiseach made his statement on his house purchase or revealed that he could face a tax bill over his dig-out loans and gifts.
The poll also revealed that health has become an even bigger election issue.
Showing the increasing concern about the state of the health service, some 42pc of voters said it was the single most important issue of the election, up 7pc in the space of just three weeks. The poll was conducted among a sample of 1,082 adults interviewed on a face-to-face basis in the home throughout all constituencies in the country.
Interviewing on the poll was carried out last Wednesday and Thursday.
The final figures exclude don't knows and are adjusted for voting in the last general election.
The poll will make bleak reading for Fianna Fail as the party has nosedived from 42pc last October to 35pc now.
The last time Fianna Fail hit 35pc was in March 2004, just weeks before the party took a hammering in the local and European elections. If Fianna Fail drops to 35pc on polling day, the party faces losses of 20 seats or even more and simply wouldn't have the numbers to get back intogovernment.
With just nine days to go to polling day, Mr Ahern is fast running out of time to stage a recovery.
The pattern is even more frightening for Fianna Fail as this is the latest in a series of polls to put it in the mid 30s in terms of party support.
By contrast, Fine Gael has gone from 20pc to 26pc over the same eight month period.
On this rating in the election, Fine Gael would win around 50 plus seats.
Labour's support is also going up, despite the perception that only Fine Gael was benefiting from the pact between the twoparties.
Sinn Fein is timing its run perfectly and the party is now up to 10pc and poised to make seat gains.
However, the Green Party will be concerned that yet another poll suggests the party peaked too soon before the final countdown to polling day.