Teflon Leo favourite to succeed Kenny despite health crises
The health service is never far from crisis, but Health Minister Leo Varadkar's star continues to shine.
A new opinion poll has found that the country's first openly gay cabinet minister is the overwhelming favourite to become the next leader of Fine Gael.
The poll shows that one third of the general public and half of Fine Gael supporters would favour Mr Varadkar succeeding Enda Kenny.
The 36-year-old Dublin West TD's ranking is double that of Agriculture and Defence Minister Simon Coveney, the other person tipped as a future leader, and also way ahead of the rating of another potential contender, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald.
The Behaviour & Attitudes poll for 'The Sunday Times' found 34pc of the general public favoured Mr Varadkar and this rose to 49pc among Fine Gael supporters.
This compared with 16pc favouring Mr Coveney and 14pc backing Ms Fitzgerald.
Mr Varadkar's popularity comes in spite of a raft of recent controversies in health.
Fianna Fáil now argues that the service is worse than it was under his much-maligned predecessor Dr James Reilly.
It has long been accepted that Enda Kenny will lead Fine Gael into the upcoming election and the succession is currently seen as a fight between Dr Varadkar and Mr Coveney.
Ms Fitzgerald is being talked about as 'a safe pair of hands', but Varadkar's popularity beyond Fine Gael will be significant for the party's TDs and senators, who will ultimately choose the person they believe will best enhance their election chances.
The same survey - conducted between July 4 and July 14 - shows a five-point increase in support for 'Independents and Others' to 31pc.
Political geographer Adrian Kavanagh estimates that this could yield them a record 50 seats after the next general election.
The extremely high ranking may be related to the prominence of several Independents, including Mick Wallace and Paul Murphy, in recent weeks.
The poll brought no good news for Fine Gael, who are on 24pc, and it also recorded a one-point drop for Labour who are on 8pc.
These showings are a long way from their February 2011 general election result of 36pc and 19pc respectively.
Labour is especially stuck on low poll ratings and that showing could bring them into single digits for Dáil seats next time.
Dr Kavanagh estimates that Labour could have as few as seven TDs next time if that survey showing was borne out in the election.
Fianna Fáil were down 3pc to 18pc, Sinn Féin also dropped two points to 17pc, and the Green Party were down 1pc to just 1pc.
Just 29pc of people said they were "satisfied" with the Government.
There was also an indicator of contrasting morale within the Coalition parties, with 55pc of Labour supporters satisfied, compared with 73pc of Fine Gael supporters.
The constituency extrapolation by Dr Kavanagh, who is based in NUI Maynooth, shows that all of the parties would struggle to form a coalition after the next general election.
Fine Gael and Labour would be on a combined 55 TDs in the 158-seat Dáil, where a minimum of 79 deputies is required for a majority.
"My constituency-level analysis of these poll figures estimates that party seat levels, should such national support trends be replicated in an actual general election, would be as follows: Fianna Fáil 30, Fine Gael 48, Sinn Féin 23, Labour Party 7, Independents and Others 50," Dr Kavanagh said.