Friday 15 February 2019

Seanad to survive – Labour in meltdown

Poll: Gilmore worse than Cowen as rise in 'don't knows' indicates new party

DANIEL McCONNELL and JOHN DRENNAN

ALMOST two out of every five voters have no confidence in the established political parties or independent TDs, a new Sunday Independent/ Millward Brown poll reveals.

The level of disillusionment with the political parties, expressed as 'don't knows', is now at a record high of 37 per cent, up from 28 per cent in February.

This startling finding reflects widespread anger among the public at the failure of the Government to deliver the 'democratic revolution' it promised at the 2011 General Election.

And in an even more dramatic finding, the poll shows that at just eight per cent, the Labour Party is the major casualty of the collapse of public faith in political parties, with its poll ratings now consistently running below the crucial 10 per cent threshold.

Today's poll suggests that the party is entering a political death spiral.

Worse still for the junior coalition party, its leader, Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, is now as politically toxic to voters as former Taoiseach Brian Cowen was in the last months before his government fell.

Just 16 per cent of those polled said they were satisfied with the way Mr Gilmore was doing his job, while 71 per cent said they were dissatisfied.

Labour's support is now perilously close to that secured by the Green Party in the previous Fianna Fail/Green Party coalition.

In another key indicator of public discontent with the Government, the Coalition is poised to lose a second major referendum, this time over its plan to abolish the Seanad.

The proposal to disband the Upper House enjoyed a commanding 20 per cent lead when our series of Millward Brown polls began in February 2011.

By June of this year, that lead had narrowed to eight per cent. But in today's poll, the combination of those who are in favour of keeping the Seanad in its present form (seven per cent) or reforming it (33 per cent) holds a narrow three-point lead over the 37 per cent of voters who wish to see the Upper House abolished.

Such a defeat in the forthcoming referendum would come as a major blow to Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who has invested a large degree of his personal political capital in the abolition of the Seanad.

The poll suggests that a major void in the political market has now emerged for a new radical political party to fill the escalating public disillusionment with conventional parties.

Significantly, this alienation is not confined to the conventional parties. After an initial period of post-election 2011 success, both Sinn Fein and independents have seen their support becalmed in the polls.

The collapse in the Labour vote to levels comparable with the Greens is likely to spark further unrest among backbench TDs as they seek to hang on to their seats.

Significantly, given that in the 2011 election 17 of the 37 seats won by Labour were either the last or second-last seats, even a modest slip in the party's support would result in heavy losses.

The rot has even spread to the party's Dublin heartland.

The capital was the jewel in Labour's crown, with 18 seats in 2011, but on current figures even Mr Gilmore, who headed the poll in 2011 in Dun Laoghaire, would struggle to retain his seat.

Once the 'don't knows' are excluded, Fine Gael is again the most popular party at 29 per cent, up three points, with Fianna Fail just one point behind at 28 per cent, down one point.

Support for Sinn Fein is unchanged at 19 per cent.

Despite the record levels of 'don't knows' and dissatisfaction with the Government, Fine Gael's support has rebounded significantly from a low of 23 per cent in May.

At that level, Mr Kenny's party was staring down the barrel at losses of up to 40 seats.

But ahead of the October Budget, the collapse in support for Labour and the resurgence of support for Fine Gael means that tensions between the coalition partners are likely to increase significantly.

The almost identical levels of support for the two biggest parties in the poll is also likely to dampen down speculation about a possible Fine Gael/Fianna Fail merger.

The deep alienation of the electorate is evidenced by the dissatisfaction ratings for the Government and for party leaders.

Almost three out of every four voters (73 per cent) said they were dissatisfied with how the Government was running the country.

Aside from Mr Gilmore, the other party leaders currently enjoy slightly more public support. However, Mr Kenny's dissatisfaction rating of 66 per cent remains dangerously high, with just one in four voters satisfied with his performance.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin remains the most popular leader, but 56 per cent of those polled still said that they were dissatisfied with him.

While his party's recovery appears to have stalled, any threat to Mr Martin's leadership is unlikely to arise in the immediate future so long as the party continues to poll in the high 20s.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams is marginally less popular than Mr Martin, with 57 per cent of people dissatisfied with his performance as leader.

Today's poll also reveals that a strong majority of voters (61 per cent) want a banking inquiry in the wake of the recent damning revelations contained in the Anglo Tapes published by the Sunday Independent and the Irish Independent.

But in yet another example of the public's alienation from the political process, just 32 per cent of the voters believe that a political inquiry into the 2008 crash would be effective.

Sunday Independent

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