Fianna Fail remains firmly on course for an election wipeout
TAOISEACH Brian Cowen had his TDs whooping and hollering with his combative defence of the toughest Budget ever last week. But their cheers will have turned into fears when they see the appalling figures for Fianna Fail in the latest opinion poll.
The result was always going to be bad in the wake of a Budget that cut social welfare, reduced the minimum wage, and inflicted taxation increases of around €3,000 on the average family.
Fianna Fail is not quite down to the 13pc nadir seen in the recent 'Irish Sun' opinion poll, but 17pc (a seven-point drop) is pretty close.
The much predicted 'Fianna Fail wipeout' is still on course based on these figures from the 'Irish Times' IPSOS MRBI poll, with well over half of the party's TDs set to lose their seats.
And there is no sense that the public believes they have done the right thing for the country with the Budget or the EU-IMF bailout -- dissatisfaction with the Government is up by seven points to a whopping 90pc.
The poll will cause more rumblings among Fianna Fail TDs, with some desperately hoping that installing a new leader would improve their survival chances. But as the Dail shuts up shop for the Christmas holidays today, there is no sign of a pre-election leadership challenge from any of Mr Cowen's rivals. That means he is safe even with a personal approval rate of 14pc (down five points).
Fine Gael will be looking for some mistletoe to kiss under following its best poll result of the year. Its TDs and prospective election candidates will be delighted to have leaped ahead of Labour with a six point rise to 36pc.
But there is no good news for Mr Kenny, whose personal approval rating is down again by two points, to 23pc.
He can instead thank his famous 'Team Enda', especially new finance spokesman Michael Noonan, who has managed to mix the heavy (analysing the IMF bailout) with the light (joking about the IMF waterboarding Brian Lenihan to make him sign the agreement).
In some ways, Fine Gael is only regaining ground it had lost to Labour -- they were at 32pc in similar polls last January. But there will be disquiet in Labour leader Eamon Gilmore's camp that they are now on course to become the second party in a coalition government.
What has gone wrong? Well, Labour's plans to fix the economy are still vaguer than Fine Gael's. And Fine Gael has recognised Labour for the real threat that it is.
Labour is also fighting a war on two fronts. Sinn Fein has been rejuvenated by its by-election victory in Donegal South West and the arrival of party president Gerry Adams as a candidate for the Louth constituency.
Sinn Fein has gone up by seven points to 15pc, and some of that increase has come at Labour's expense. Independents will be happy with a two points rise to 11pc.