Poll shock: FF slumps to fourth behind SF
Party could lose massive 55 seats in electoral bloodbath
FIANNA Fail is facing a virtual wipeout in the General Election after a new opinion poll shows it has fallen behind Sinn Fein into fourth place.
The first poll taken since the IMF-EU bailout shows Taoiseach Brian Cowen's party languishing on a record low level of just 13pc -- a staggering 29pc drop since the last election.
If the dramatic results were repeated in the election, which is expected in the next three months, the party would be left with just 23 TDs -- a loss of 55 seats.
Mr Cowen's support levels have also taken another hit, with just 8pc wanting him to still be leader of the country after the General Election.
The figures will heap further pressure on the Taoiseach amid continued calls for the leadership of the party to be debated before polling day.
Shell-shocked Fianna Fail ministers and TDs feared in recent weeks that the devastating blow of the arrival of the IMF had pushed them past the point of rescue.
Finance Minister Brian Lenihan last night dispelled speculation he may not run in the General Election by vowing to fight to keep his Dail seat.
The Dublin West TD has been battling cancer since last year but he insists he is in good health. "Of course I'm running at the next election, a convention has been called in January in my constituency," he said on RTE's 'Six One News'.
Mr Lenihan's supporters believe he should replace Mr Cowen as leader of the party going into the General Election.
The Cabinet met last night to finalise the details of the Budget, which Mr Lenihan will announce on Tuesday afternoon.
The tax take for November was the final piece of the Government's budgetary jigsaw. The figures showed higher-than-expected corporation tax receipts boosting the Government's position slightly.
But Mr Lenihan will still announce a €6bn package of cuts and taxes next week.
The Red C opinion poll is the first to gauge the public's reaction to the IMF and EU multi-billion-euro bailout deal.
Fine Gael and Labour will draw little comfort from the poll, which shows they have failed to capitalise on the unprecedented events of the last two weeks and the protests in Dublin last weekend.
Both parties have seen their levels of support fall in the last fortnight.
Labour has dropped three points from 27pc to 24pc, while Fine Gael has fallen slightly to 32pc.
The historically low figure for Fianna Fail has now allowed Sinn Fein to overtake it and move to 16pc in the popularity stakes.
Sinn Fein's support is more than double what it achieved at the last election and points to renewed popularity in the aftermath of its Donegal by-election win and party president Gerry Adams' decision to run in the General Election.
But the party's massive gains may only be temporary as recent opinion polls have showed voters are switching quickly between the opposition parties.
While Fine Gael now has more than double the support of Fianna Fail, its leader Enda Kenny is still failing to command high levels of support as the next Taoiseach.
Instead, Labour leader Eamon Gilmore is out ahead on 41pc when it comes to the people's choice for Taoiseach, while Mr Kenny follows in second place on 25pc.
The poll of 1,000 people was conducted for 'The Irish Sun' newspaper.
Labour's 3pc drop in its support is well off the 30pc-plus poll ratings it achieved earlier this year.
Following a tumultuous few weeks for the Green Party, it has steadied its support at 3pc.
The party's six TDs will be relieved to have stayed at 3pc in the aftermath of their shock decision to call for a General Election early in the New Year.
Independents have gained three to 11pc and are now drawing support away from opposition parties.