FINE Gael leader Enda Kenny was last night forced to give up his €100,000 teaching pension pay-off as a new poll revealed his popularity with voters is soaring just days before the election.
r Kenny forfeited the entire amount, including contributions he has made to the pension pot as the poll showed his party retains a strong lead while Labour's campaign continues to disintegrate. Fine Gael is now on 37pc -- a rise of four points in the past 10 days. In contrast, Labour's support dropped by five points in the same period.
And Fianna Fail continues to languish -- up just one point to 16pc -- as party leader Micheal Martin appealed to core supporters to come out and vote this Friday.
Earlier Mr Kenny had made his first major error of the campaign by confirming that he intended to accept a €100,000 pension lump sum -- arising from his four-and-a-half years as a teacher in the 1970s.
But he dealt with the controversy swiftly after being accused by Mr Martin of "rank hypocrisy" and said he would not take either the €100,000 pay-off or a €30,000-a-year teaching pension.
Elsewhere Fianna Fail minister Pat Carey admitted he had accepted a €120,000 pension lump sum pay-off in recent years from 30 years' teaching. "Yes I am entitled to a pension and I will draw it," he said.
And Fianna Fail deputy leader Mary Hanafin said she had an €11,500-a-year pension pot built up from teaching once she retires, which she would also be accepting.
At the height of the row yesterday, and before Mr Kenny announced he would not be taking the cash, Mr Martin said he was "taken aback" by the Fine Gael leader's stance on the pension. At that stage Mr Kenny said he had merely deferred the €100,000 pay-off until he retires.
"I think it's hypocrisy in the sense that Fine Gael have been making an issue of pensions and severance rights throughout this campaign and before it -- yet they didn't come clean in relation to any of those pension entitlements," Mr Martin said.
But Mr Kenny insisted: "Simply because I paid into a pension fund, in case anybody has any illusions that the leader of the Fine Gael party is any way involved in a money situation here, I will not be accepting any pension from the teaching profession and I hope that those who are, and those (who) at 50 years of age run away from Dail Eireann on pensions of €100,000 for the rest of their lives think about what they are doing."
The latest poll, meanwhile, put Sinn Fein on 11pc, down one point, while the Green Party is marginally up one point to 2pc.
Independents continue to poll strongly on 15pc, according to the Ipsos/mrbi poll for 'The Irish Times'.
In the closing stages of the election campaign, Mr Kenny's stock is also rising with the electorate.
But Labour leader Eamon Gilmore is the only party leader to have his satisfaction rating drop in the course of this campaign -- a reflection of his party's general poor performance.
Mr Kenny's satisfaction rating has risen by seven points in the past fortnight to 37pc.
He is now just three points behind Mr Gilmore as the most popular leader. Mr Gilmore's standing has dropped by four points to 40pc. Mr Martin's satisfaction rating has also risen by four points to 29pc. Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams is up two points to 29pc.
Green Party leader John Gormley's rating is also up by four points to 19pc.
The poll of 1,000 voters across all the constituencies was taken on Thursday and Friday.
Earlier, Mr Kenny also hit back at Mr Martin by challenging him to give up his teaching job, which he still holds, although he has not chalked up a pension pot.