The race to lead a new party is firmly on - but Independent TD Shane Ross is the public's preferred choice as leader, the Sunday Independent can reveal. Amid growing political instability and uncertainty, supporters of Mr Ross commissioned a Red C poll of 1,005 people across the country, which was conducted last week.
The commissioning of the poll is the most tangible sign that Mr Ross is keen to lead a new force in Irish politics and that the next General Election is focusing the minds of the large grouping of Independent TDs in the Dail.
The poll asked the public who would they like to lead a new party, should one be created, and shows Mr Ross leads the way on 22pc.
The survey, conducted between last Monday and Wednesday, shows support for Mr Ross is strongest among men, those in older age groups and farmers.
His strongest ratings were among middle-aged people with no children, empty nesters and those in their twilight years.
Mr Ross, the poll suggests, is also popular across all social classes and is more popular in working-class families than in the higher-educated class grouping. The poll cautions he "has work to do to convince younger voters of his credentials."
Among those voters who said they are likely to vote Independent at the next election, Mr Ross' lead over his nearest rival, Lucinda Creighton, increases significantly.
According to the poll, Mr Ross enjoys the support of 30pc of all voters who intend voting for Independent candidates.
Ms Creighton, the leader of the Reform Alliance, who was expelled from Fine Gael along with a number of her colleagues for opposing the Government's Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill in 2013, is the preferred choice of 18pc of all voters and 18pc of Independent voters.
She is most popular among the higher-educated electorate but her support base falls away in poorer communities.
The former Labour minister turned arch-critic of the Coalition, Roisin Shortall, is the third choice to lead a new party on 13pc.
Independent TD Stephen Donnelly comes in fourth at just 9pc.
Eight per cent of voters said they would like to see former Tanaiste Michael McDowell as leader.
Four per cent chose businessman Declan Ganley, with just once per cent saying banking expert Peter Mathews should lead the new party. 'Others' got 1pc support, while 19pc said they would not support any of the names offered. Eight per cent of those polled said they would have no interest in a new party.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent last night, Mr Ross said: "The results are encouraging, yeah. But no formal decisions have yet been taken. Talks between Independent TDs are still at an exploratory stage to see if we can share a common outlook."
Mr Ross said that it is clear the public want an end to the failed whip system of parliament and want to do away with the culture of cronyism that the traditional 'big three' parties - Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fail - continue to engage in. He added: "The public has had enough, the mood is changing and they want an end to this. One way to do this is to abolish the whip system."
Mr Ross would not commit definitively as to whether this new party would ultimately happen but described himself as neutral as to whether it should be a "formal party" or rather a "loose alliance" of Independents.
But he did concede time is running out given the General Election is likely sometime next year, and given the political unrest at present. Mr Ross recently wrote to almost 200 Independent councillors across the country to explore the idea of working together, saying the time to act in order to remove the Government is now.
He said he received a positive response from over half of those he contacted.
"I am meeting councillors every week with a view to see what common ground there is," he said.
Mr Ross said he would easily be able to work with Ms Creighton, Mr Donnelly and Ms Shortall if they agree to come together. Ms Creighton herself is continuing to advance her plans of a new party and has written to her supporters inviting them to a gathering this week at which the possibility of setting up a new political party will be discussed.
Ms Creighton says she sent the letter to about 150 supporters from her Dublin Bay South constituency to invite them for pre-Christmas drinks at a city-centre venue.
The letter said the event next Thursday would provide an opportunity for those interested to discuss whether there was room for a new political party to bring "honesty and integrity" back into Irish politics.
Ms Creighton said the gathering is not formal but would allow her to take "guidance" from her supporters about whether there is an appetite for a new party.