Wednesday 21 February 2018

Micheál is in a spot of bother - and this is about more than the impending referendum

Micheál Martin
Micheál Martin
John Downing

John Downing

The punters see Leo Varadkar's various gaffes as noise in the market. Or maybe he's making inroads on the basis of being a plain-speaking politician.

The latest opinion poll shows Fine Gael is motoring well and the Taoiseach's stock is up there with Bertie Ahern (remember him?) in his heyday. It probably is all about Brexit, an area where the new Taoiseach has handled himself with some aplomb - so far.

This is definitely not good news for either Micheál Martin or Fianna Fáil. He's a great man for brushing aside the surveys and battering on. But the trend, in the last two Ipsos MRBI opinion polls for the 'Irish Times', is definitely not Mr Martin's friend.

Let's compare the latest opinion poll with the one taken in December. We find Fine Gael back two points to 34pc, but still nicely ahead of Fianna Fáil, which is unchanged on 25pc. Sinn Féin (19pc) and Labour (4pc) are also unchanged, while 'Independents and Others' are up two points to 18pc.

Often a party's opinion poll problems are related to a fall in visibility. But field work for this survey was done last Monday and Tuesday, a time when Fianna Fáil had huge media exposure due to its ongoing tensions about the upcoming abortion referendum.

This confirms the idea that, for the moment at least, the abortion issue is not a vote-getter. Mr Martin has shown some considerable courage and leadership in what will be his party's first ever divergence from the Catholic Church.

His support for a significant change in Ireland's abortion rules and practice is admirable for many people and anathema to a considerable group within his own party. But there is no immediate dividend among the wider public. There is continuing doubt about what kind of political traction can be gained from this most divisive topic.

The Fianna Fáil leader defied the polls in the last election in February 2016 and emerged with a very good result. But the findings of two consecutive surveys from a company which is rated by the politicians generally are a cause of concern.

It is an early spring for the Taoiseach who is a bare seven months in office. Six out of 10 people approve of his leadership and a very similar figure, in fact 58pc, believe "the country is going in the right direction".

Clearly, the economic buoyancy and the continuing increase in employment, driven by eurozone and international resurgence, are a huge help here. As the economy is driving on, so too are the Taoiseach and his Government.

Leo Varadkar has done well out of Brexit and got a good interim result. Next month we enter the crucial phase, seriously testing him.

Irish Independent

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