Wind taken out of Fine Gael's sails
The fact the Banking Inquiry, set up very much under FG's terms, has failed to land any hard punches has done the party no favours, according to the latest opinion poll
Published 02/08/2015 | 02:30
Even though the Dail is now in recess, and many of our parliamentarians are on their summer break, there has still been plenty of activity to focus the minds of both the Government and the Opposition politicians recently. This latest Millward Brown opinion poll, conducted over an 11-day period up until Thursday, coincided with the on-going Banking Inquiry and the Eurostat judgment on Irish Water.
Our more recent tracking polls had suggested that Fine Gael was beginning to pull away from the chasing pack, opening up a gap from its rivals. However, this July poll suggests that that momentum has come to a shuddering halt. The senior Government party has shed five points in this latest snapshot, and now stands at 24pc; its lowest rating seen this year. It would seem that the Eurostat judgment in particular has taken the wind out of FG's sails. Following on from a disastrous 2014, where there was a cacophony of errors (take your pick from Shatter, Callinan, Irish Water or McNulty), FG had seemed to have steadied its ship.
They will hope that these latest findings are a blip, and that the summer recess will dilute the embarrassment of that judgment. Yet the continuing protestations, from Fine Gael ministers in particular, that this ruling is not a setback seems to be compounding public ire.
Another school of thought is that the ongoing Banking Inquiry has done the party no favours either. The inquiry was set up very much under FG's terms. The public undoubtedly wanted to see some sort of retribution, or at the very least, an inquiry that would bare its teeth. Instead there is a sense of a missed opportunity (regardless of the powers and remit of the inquiry). Prominent members of Fianna Fail's previous administration have deftly sidestepped any hard punches that the inquiry has attempted to land. In addition, those who appeared from within the banking sector are perceived by some to have escaped lightly.
Labour, at seven per cent, is surviving on the voting intentions of its die-hard supporters. In essence, its floating vote has long since abandoned them - the most recent debacle of Irish Water was not really going to damage them any more grievously than the past four years has.
On the basis of these results, the current administration could rely on just 31pc of the vote if a general election were to be called. Ironically, however, the proportion of people who think that this government could gain a second term has risen (up 11 to 27pc). That said, with just over a quarter of the population seeing such a future, the signs are ominous (interestingly, among the Government's own supporters, just 51pc of FG supporters and 40pc of Labour supporters envisage this scenario. Hardly a ringing endorsement).
In tandem with these results, overall satisfaction with the Government's performance has taken a hit - just one in four are happy; down four points since last month.
Fianna Fail will be relatively happy with this showing. For the second poll in a row they register 23pc support, and will hope that there are signs of consolidation. They will feel they escaped relatively unscathed from the legacy of previous administrations at the Banking Inquiry.
Sinn Fein has remained static at 21pc. They have not been overly damaged by their support for Syriza's policies in Greece - just three in 10 feel SF's stance has been detrimental to the party.
The largest increase in support in this poll is for Independents/Other Parties. Combined support is up four points to 24pc. They will no doubt be a formidable grouping in the 32nd Dail, although exactly how formidable is still up for discussion. They will win many seats on merit and localised issues, but transfers could prove their downfall - their actual vote will not reflect their Dail representation.
With a general election looming, there is a three-horse race emerging, along with the added spice of the Independents/Other Parties. The next Dail has the potential to be a very fractured affair, and its stability will be a key concern.
Looking at the toxicity of the parties (that is, who people would not vote for), all of the "establishment" parties have taken a hit in July - more people are saying they would definitely not vote for FG, Labour or Fianna Fail. Interestingly, there has been a softening of antagonism towards the more overtly left-wing parties - Sinn Fein, the Socialist Party and People before Profit have all seen a decrease in their toxicity this month.
Turning again to Irish Water - the gift that keeps giving to the Opposition parties - we asked whether the water charges programme will be implemented or not. Opinion is polarised - 37pc say it will continue, and 36pc believing it will be abolished. Even among FG and Labour supporters, there is no clear support for the current programme to continue.
Many within Government must feel that something has to change, as the current arrangement is not working, and has the potential to sink the legacy of this administration. The thing is, is it too late?
Paul Moran is an Associate Director with Millward Brown