FIANNA Fail has slumped to just 10 per cent support, down a massive seven points from its worst ever result in the General Election, a Sunday Independent/Millward Brown Lansdowne opinion poll has found.
The finding clearly shows that support for Fianna Fail did not hit rock bottom in the election in February and, inevitably, will now give rise to the most searching questions yet as to whether the party has a future at all. A detailed analysis of the poll, however, points to the possible salvation of Fianna Fail should the party decide to facilitate the clamour for Senator David Norris to re-enter the presidential election.
According to the Sunday Independent/Millward Brown Lansdowne poll, a massive 40 per cent — up six points in a month — now say they are in favour of a Norris comeback. The poll was taken before the appearance of the senator on The Late Late Show on Friday. Support for a Norris comeback is particularly strong in Dublin and Leinster and among age groups and social classes where Fianna Fail has haemorrhaged most of its support in recent years. The extent to which the public want Fianna Fail to facilitate the nomination of Mr Norris is even more evidentially illustrated in a second opinion poll which was commissioned as a result of the announcement that Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein is to contest the presidential election.
A Sunday Independent/ Quantum Research telephone poll specifically asked whether Fianna Fail should facilitate the nomination of Mr Norris; the answer was a resounding yes. Taken yesterday, after The Late Late Show and following the announcement that Mr McGuinness is to contest the election, a massive 59 per cent said Fianna Fail should facilitate Mr Norris. That poll also indicates that Mr McGuinness will primarily take support from Michael D Higgins of Labour.
The Sunday Independent/ Millward Brown Lansdowne poll, meanwhile, was conducted over a two-week period up to Wednesday last week, the day before a fractious meeting of the FF parliamentary party, which revealed the extent to which its TDs and senators are riven with dissent. Tensions within Fianna Fail will be heightened in advance of a resumed meeting of the parliamentary party on Tuesday after the broadcast tomorrow of an interview during which deputy leader Eamon O Cuiv discusses the possibility of setting up a breakaway party.
Mr O Cuiv tells The Rise and Fall of Fianna Fail on TV3: “I think we served the country well. I believe that market, that view, that idea that Fianna Fail represented has to be in Irish politics. “And if it’s not possible to do it under the name Fianna Fail, well, then we’ll have to do it under some other name — but the ideal lives on and that’s the important thing.” Following that broadcast and armed with today’s opinion polls, Mr Martin will have no choice but to stamp his authority on the parliamentary party on Tuesday.
In that regard, an opportunity is presented to the leader by a finding in the Sunday Independent/Millward Brown Lansdowne poll that 40 per cent want Mr Norris to contest the presidential election; last month that figure was 34 per cent. Interviewing for the Sunday Independent/Millward Brown Lansdowne poll was carried out between August 30 and September 14, among a sample of 976 adults representative of approximately 3.35 million potential voters nationwide.
Asked if a general election were held tomorrow which party or independent they would vote for, or be most inclined to vote for, the poll found: Fine Gael (40 per cent) up four points since the General Election in February; Labour (20 per cent) up one point; Sinn Fein (11 per cent) up one point; Fianna Fail (10 per cent) down seven points; Greens (2 per cent), unchanged; independents/ others (17 per cent), up two points. Alarmingly for Fianna Fail, the poll shows that its support in Dublin has plummeted to just 5 per cent, a finding which would indicate that it has no chance of retaining its solitary capital seat in the Dublin West by-election caused by the death of Brian Lenihan. Support for a Norris comeback is strongest in the areas where Fianna Fail is weakest.
For example, the clamour for Mr Norris to secure a nomination is particularly strong in Dublin (48 per cent); Rest of Leinster (46 per cent); age group 25-34 (46 per cent) and age group 35-49 (45 per cent), as well as the ABC1 social class (43 per cent). Support for Fianna Fail in these cohorts is: Dublin (5 per cent), Rest of Leinster (11 per cent); aged 25-34 (9 per cent); aged 35-49 (7 per cent) and ABC1 social class (10 per cent). Mr Martin may now be tempted to trump the dissenters within his parliamentary party by allowing a free vote for TDs and senators to support candidates of their choice who are still seeking a nomination to contest the presidential election.
The finding, meanwhile, that four in 10 say they would vote for Fine Gael clearly indicates that the main government party’s honeymoon period has continued through the summer at a time when events in Europe dominated the political landscape. Support for Fine Gael is relatively consistent across the generational span and is particularly strong in working class areas, although the party commands less than a third support in Dublin, which may be an ominous sign for its presidential candidate Gay Mitchell.
Nevertheless, the fact that Fine Gael has increased support by 4 per cent on its best ever result in the General Election will be welcomed by the party as it faces into a most difficult period. Between now and the end of the year, the Government will seek to retain public support in preparation for a Budget which will contain cuts and taxes of around €4bn. Support for Labour remains steady and is largely drawn from Dublin, where, at 29 per cent, it is just three points behind Fine Gael.
The government parties, therefore, will enter the next four months reasonably hopeful that they will bring with them a public which has been well prepared for difficult decisions required to cut the budget deficit. Support for Sinn Fein is also holding firm, although it will be somewhat disappointed only to have shown a one point increase on the General Election result given that it has been the most vocal of the parties in opposition.
Support for independents remains at historically high levels, which may bode well for independent candidates. The real story of these opinion polls, however, is the extent to which support for Fianna Fail has plummeted, and the manner in which support for the nomination of Mr Norris is growing. The polls also show that there is growing support behind the campaign for the presidency of the independent candidate Mary Davis and that Fine Gael’s Gay Mitchell is failing to gain momentum.
The Sunday Independent/ Millward Brown Lansdowne poll was taken before Sinn Fein signalled the intention of Mr McGuinness to contest the election.
On the presidency, that poll found: Michael D Higgins (32pc); David Norris (19pc); Mary Davis (18pc); Gay Mitchell (17pc); Sean Gallagher (14pc). The subsequent, although less scientific, Sunday Independent/ Quantum Research poll indicates that the candidacy of Mr McGuinness has thrown open the contest: it seems he will primarily take support from Michael D Higgins of Labour.
Bearing in mind that polling took place after The Late Late Show, the findings, excluding Don’t Knows, were: David Norris (34pc); Michael D Higgins (18pc); Martin McGuinness (17pc); Mary Davis (12pc); Gay Mitchell (11pc); Sean Gallagher (8pc). On TV3 tomorrow, meanwhile, Mr O Cuiv also asks: “Is Fianna Fail so damaged by the label of corruption, by the label of big business, builders and bankers — a lot of which has nothing to do with the membership of the Fianna Fail I know — that it is a really seriously damaged brand and... you know, the thought does enter my mind – are we going to be forever damaged by the actions of the few? If that were so, maybe we have to look at a new way forward for the very, very same ideals.” Speaking on The Marian Finucane Show on RTE1 yesterday, former senator Eoghan Harris said: “Fianna Fail have nothing to lose by backing David Norris, they have the world to gain.
“Fianna Fail is clinically insane if they don’t back David Norris... Fianna Fail is now a prisoner of the Spuc people of Ireland.”