FINE Gael's hopes of winning an overall majority have been dealt a significant blow, the first opinion poll of the 2011 General Election campaign reveals.
Support for the party has slipped by four points in a matter of days to 30pc, according to the latest Irish Independent/ Millward Brown Lansdowne poll.
But Enda Kenny is still on course to become the next Taoiseach and Fine Gael is set to form the next coalition government along with Labour, whose support remains steady on 24pc.
If this result was repeated at the polls, a Fine Gael/Labour coalition would expect to win between 90 and 100 seats.
President Mary McAleese dissolved the Dail last night, following a request from outgoing Taoiseach Brian Cowen.
Despite the poll setback, Mr Kenny remains the overwhelming favourite to become Taoiseach ahead of polling day, which was confirmed yesterday as Friday, February 25.
But his popularity remains a serious problem for the party as the starting gun to the election campaign was fired. Just 27pc of those polled are satisfied with his performance and he lags significantly behind Labour's Eamon Gilmore on 46pc and new Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin on 44pc.
A surge in Fine Gael support last weekend has been curtailed with a dip of four points to 30pc. But Sinn Fein's rise in support continues, with the party now up another three points to 16pc.
The Green Party is still staring at oblivion, registering just one pc of support. But Independents continue to poll strongly, with 15pc of the vote.
Fianna Fail's dramatic loss of support has halted but the party is still in fifth place in the capital, with just 11pc support.
Another Fianna Fail TD is believed to be coming under intense pressure to stand down. Former junior minister Michael Ahern is understood to be the latest TD identified by Mr Martin as surplus to requirements.
The low-profile Mr Ahern was unavailable for comment last night. Mr Martin is thought to favour just running one candidate in his Cork East constituency -- Kevin O'Keeffe, the son of Ned O'Keeffe.
Fine Gael will be concerned at the drop in momentum over the weekend. But the party does have the most even support across all four regions and is best supported party among the younger age groups.
Labour has consolidated its place as second biggest party and is practically level with Fine Gael in Dublin.
The party hopes of a 'Gilmore Gale' remain steady and the narrowing of the gap will rekindle the 'Gilmore for Taoiseach's slogans, but this appears a dream too far.
Sinn Fein's strong support among young voters continues and the impact from the by-election victory of Pearse Doherty remains in Connaught-Ulster.
But Mr Kenny said he would travel the length and breadth of the country over the next three weeks to seek a mandate for a strong government that would not depend "on the whim of some mercenary independents".
"A government that will not run in the face of crisis and a government I will be proud to lead if the Irish people give us their trust to implement our plan to get Ireland working again," he said.
At the launch of his party's general election campaign in Fitzwilliam Hall in Dublin, Mr Kenny pledged there would be no further tax increases if Fine Gael got into power.
The Taoiseach was one of 32 TDs to retire from the Dail yesterday -- with no less than 22 coming from Fianna Fail.
Mr Cowen described himself as someone who had always had the "best interests" of the Irish people at heart in his final Dail speech yesterday.
He told the Dail he had no time for the cynics who belittle people in public life.
"Politics is public service -- and it is an honourable profession. I say that with sincerity, with conviction and from experience."
FOR several weeks -- months, on some reckonings -- the Irish political world has been engaged in a phony war; in an undeclared election campaign without an election. Yesterday, with the dissolution of the Dail, the phony war turned real. Now it is time to concentrate minds.