Sunday 21 December 2014

Voters back GSOC and turn on Minister Shatter

Poll shock: Public swings away from main parties to Sinn Fein and Independents during weeks of Garda whistleblower controversy

JODY CORCORAN, JODY CORCORAN, FIONNAN SHEEHAN, and JIM CUSACK

Published 02/03/2014 | 02:30

BROTHERS IN ARMS: Jerry Buttimer and Alan Shatter at the Fine Gael Ard Fheis. Photo: Barbara Lindberg
BROTHERS IN ARMS: Jerry Buttimer and Alan Shatter at the Fine Gael Ard Fheis. Photo: Barbara Lindberg

SUPPORT for the government parties and Fianna Fail has dramatically shifted towards Sinn Fein and independents in the wake of the garda controversies, the latest Sunday Independent/Millward Brown poll reveals.

The nationwide poll, taken at the height of the suspected Garda Ombudsman (GSOC) 'bugging' and whistleblower affairs, also shows that Justice Minister Alan Shatter has been badly damaged by the controversies.

Two-thirds of voters believe the Garda Ombudsman was right to launch a public interest investigation into the suspected bugging of its offices – despite Mr Shatter's suggestion that the GSOC had acted "prematurely" in suspecting garda surveillance.

The poll shows Mr Shatter has entered a list of the most unpopular ministers for the first time.

The Justice Minister comes after Health Minister Dr James Reilly and Taoiseach Enda Kenny in the list of poor performers, but is now even more unpopular than Environment Minister Phil Hogan.

Sinn Fein and the independents have emerged as big winners in the poll, which was conducted at the height of the garda controversies and just three months before the local and European elections.

The poll shows there has been a significant backlash against the three main establishment parties, with Fine Gael and Labour losing significant support and Fianna Fail now at its lowest level in almost two years.

Fianna Fail, which has been overtaken by Sinn Fein as the second biggest party in the country, will be particularly disappointed that it has failed to gain any traction by leading the charge in the face of clear public disquiet at Mr Shatter's handling of the bugging affair at the GSOC.

The failure of Fianna Fail to win popular support, despite a vigorous campaign on a garda whistleblower's claims, can be put down to Mr Shatter's success in deflecting the controversy on to the previous government.

Excluding don't knows, the state of the parties is: Fine Gael (27 per cent) down three points; Labour (8 per cent) down four; Fianna Fail (21 per cent) down five; Sinn Fein (22 per cent) up six; independents/others (20 per cent) up five; Greens (2 per cent) up one point.

On these figures, Fine Gael could lose one-third of its seats and Labour would lose two-thirds in a General Election. Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail could win between 30 and 40 seats each.

Sinn Fein has clearly emerged as the main beneficiary during a fractious period in which Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, in particular, slugged it out over the garda controversies.

Based on these figures, Sinn Fein will easily elect three MEPs in the European elections and will win a swathe of seats across the country in the local elections; independent candidates are also set to make significant gains on local authority councils. That said, a massive 35 per cent of voters say they still do not know which party to give their first-preference vote to – a finding that has reversed a tentative trend of renewed support for Fine Gael and Labour since the country emerged from the bailout.

In the Sunday Independent today, former Progressive Democrats leader Michael McDowell refers to the Reform Alliance RDS 'monster meeting' as a "receding memory".

But he says he still thinks a "reformist movement" properly timed could win 20 seats in the next General Election: "Will it happen? I think it is more likely than not," he says. Mr McDowell also refers to the May elections as a "dubious electoral test".

The six-point jump in support for Sinn Fein – now at its highest level in these polls – is also reflected in a massive nine-point increase in satisfaction with leader Gerry Adams.

The leaders' satisfaction ratings are: Fine Gael leader, Enda Kenny (25 per cent) down three points; Labour leader, Eamon Gilmore (18 per cent) up two; Fianna Fail leader, Micheal Martin (28 per cent) up three; Sinn Fein leader, Gerry Adams (28 per cent) up nine.

Likewise, support for independents/others is at its highest level since the General Election, which indicates that independent candidates are set to make substantial gains on councils.

The increased support for the independents can be attributed, in part, to the roles played by TDs Clare Daly and Mick Wallace in the garda controversies.

But the positions taken by independent TD Stephen Donnelly on the IBRC mortgage controversy; and independent TD Shane Ross, with Mary Lou McDonald of SF, at the Public Accounts Committee, can also account for the voters' swing behind the independents and Sinn Fein.

Also in the Sunday Independent today, the IRA killer who shot dead Detective Garda Seamus Quaid in 1980 has claimed Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness ordered him to transport explosives to England.

The claims will come as a major embarrassment for Sinn Fein and emerge as the party finds itself at the centre of a political storm over a secret deal between the British government and fugitive IRA activists, following the collapse of the trial of Hyde Park bombing suspect John Downey. Whether this controversy will have an impact on Sinn Fein support here remains to be seen - but there is little doubt that the GSOC affair, in particular, has tarnished Fine Gael and Labour.

A significant majority (66 per cent) believes GSOC was justified in launching a public interest finding into the suspected bugging of its offices; just 12 per cent say the investigation was not justified; while 22 per cent did not know or had no opinion.

Interestingly, almost three-quarters of Fine Gael (71 per cent) and Labour (74 per cent) supporters believe the GSOC investigation was justified, while higher than average residents in Dublin (17 per cent) believe it was not justified.

Asked which government minister has been least effective since the Government came to power, Health Minister James Reilly (21 per cent), down four points since November, again tops the list followed by Taoiseach Enda Kenny (10 per cent) down two points.

However, Mr Shatter (9 per cent), up six points, features on the list of least popular ministers for the first time ahead of Mr Hogan (8 per cent), unchanged.

The poll has also found that satisfaction with the way the Government is running the country has slipped back in the past month.

Just one-in-five is satisfied with the way the Government is running the country, while 71 per cent (up three points) say they are dissatisfied, rising to 77 per cent among the key 35-44 year olds.

Sunday Independent

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