Varadkar struggles in dogfight for power as Coveney closes gap on frontrunner
Simon Coveney has dramatically narrowed rival Leo Varadkar’s lead as the public’s favourite to succeed Enda Kenny — but there is also clear evidence that a third candidate could emerge to win a Fine Gael leadership contest, according to a Sunday Independent/Kantar Millward Brown opinion poll.
This is the first time that those polled were offered a choice of just two candidates to succeed Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Mr Kenny.
Mr Varadkar (37pc) extends his lead over Mr Coveney (28pc) among Fine Gael supporters, according to the opinion poll, but again almost one-quarter of party supporters favour somebody else (15pc), or neither front-runner (7pc), should Mr Kenny decide to step down.
Yesterday, Mr Varadkar increased the pressure on Mr Kenny to make his continued leadership intentions known, but the Taoiseach told the Sunday Independent he intended to “focus on the job in hand” which, his spokesman said, he would carry out with “continued dedication and dignity”.
But today’s opinion poll contains further findings which will add to the mounting pressure on Mr Kenny to resign. The state of the parties shows Fianna Fail (33pc) — up six points since a comparable poll in October — has opened up an eight-point lead over Fine Gael (25pc), down four points.
Fianna Fail is extending its lead — it is now at its highest point since 2008 — at a time when there has been a marked increase in consumer confidence.
The poll finds 23pc believe they are better off than they were last year, a seven-point increase, and 21pc feel worse off, a nine-point decrease, while 27pc feel they will be better off next year, a sevenpoint increase, and 14pc feel they will be worse off, a nine- point decrease.
The poll also shows Sinn Fein (20pc) unchanged, Labour (6pc) down two points, the Greens (2pc) unchanged and Independents/others (14pc) down one point.
Mr Varadkar told the Sunday Independent: “Everyone is waiting to hear from the Taoiseach. The current situation is distracting and destabilising for the Government, the party and the country. I have full confidence in the Taoiseach to settle it.”
However, Mr Coveney said the Taoiseach should not be forced to “set a date” for his departure.
“Enda is still the leader of our party - he has been for 15 years. I think he deserves the respect to be given time and space to make any decisions he thinks he needs to make.”
Today’s poll also finds Mr Kenny’s satisfaction rating (27pc) down just two points and dissatisfaction rating (62pc) up three points since October. Furthermore, satisfaction with the Government (27pc), down four points, and dissatisfaction (64pc), up two points, have not significantly changed despite recent political turmoil.
The poll, among a representative sample of 960, was carried out between February 6 and 16 and has a margin of error of 3.2pc.
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin (44pc), up one point, remains comfortably the most popular party leader with an unchanged dissatisfaction rating of 40pc.
However, only a slim majority (53pc), down one point, want Mr Kenny to resign as Fine Gael leader while 25pc, up one point, want him to remain. Fascinatingly, a majority (57pc) of Fine Gael supporters say Mr Kenny should remain leader, a finding which may encourage him to resist pressure to resign and choose the time of his own departure. Furthermore, 73pc of Fine Gael supporters are satisfied with his leadership.
Also interestingly, of those who believe Mr Kenny should remain, more opt for Mr Coveney (29pc) than Mr Varadkar (27pc) as his successor, a finding which indicates that the Housing Minister is in a position to win the backing of more of Mr Kenny’s supporters in a leadership contest.
Of those who believe Mr Kenny should resign, 31pc would support Mr Varadkar and 28pc would support Mr Coveney.
These findings show that while Mr Varadkar must be the favourite to succeed Mr Kenny, a Fine Gael leadership contest would be far from a foregone conclusion.
Yesterday, Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan said Fine Gael needed to “keep calm and measured over the next few months” or the party would “catapult ourselves into a messy general election that will play into the hands of Sinn Fein and the loony left”.
Today’s opinion poll, however, finds that support for Independents and smaller parties has almost halved since the General Election.
Furthermore, when asked which party or political grouping they would not consider voting for in the next election, the poll finds that the Socialist Party (22pc), up seven points; AAA-PBP (22pc), up four points; Greens (20pc), up three points; and Social Democrats (14pc), up four points, appear to be falling out of favour with voters, while 36pc, down two points, say they would not consider voting for Sinn Fein.