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Dissatisfaction with parties shows electorate has lost its trust

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Speaking during his annual Christmas briefing with reporters, Mr Kenny said he intends to appoint individuals to Cabinet based on ability

Speaking during his annual Christmas briefing with reporters, Mr Kenny said he intends to appoint individuals to Cabinet based on ability

Joan Burton

Joan Burton

Collins Dublin, Gareth Chaney

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin

Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin

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Speaking during his annual Christmas briefing with reporters, Mr Kenny said he intends to appoint individuals to Cabinet based on ability

This latest Millward Brown opinion poll, conducted over 10 days up until last Friday, reflects an instability in Irish politics more recently, but also a public that is disillusioned with how our affairs are conducted.

First off, let's look at the context. In essence, there has only been two shows in town more recently: the ongoing controversy of the impending water charges and the fallout from the Mairia Cahill allegations.

Even prior to these though, we had the John McNulty affair. It is against this backdrop that we see some oscillations in the public's evaluation of the body politic.

It is interesting to note that the levels of undecideds recorded (24pc) is at its lowest level in the series of tracking polls. It would seem that we are becoming less apathetic to the goings-on in Kildare Street, but how that enthusiasm manifests itself however is just as illuminating.

The Government parties must be scratching their heads in wonderment. When you have Wolfgang Schauble, the German Finance Minister expressing his envy of our economic momentum, one would expect that satisfaction with the administration in general, and the Government parties in particular, would be heading northwards on the graph. Anything but.

At a time when they should be basking in the afterglow of continuing good news on the economic front, they have managed to score some spectacular own goals.

The ongoing issue of water charges has focussed the minds of many. Dissatisfaction with the Government (73pc) is at a year-long high - reversing any gains made over the past 12 months. Just one in five (21pc) are happy. This has been compounded by the accusations of cronyism in light of the McNulty affair (although we also found in this poll that the public's view on ethics in politics are actually quite mixed).

Support for both parties has slipped, albeit marginally. Fine Gael have shed three points to 22pc, whilst Labour have slipped back to seven per cent (down two). Given that this should be a "happy time" for both parties, these result will be deeply disappointing. Any positive impact from them delivering a first neutral budget in six years has been eroded by the palpable anger (and trepidation) being generated by the water debate.

In terms of communications, they have been outflanked at nearly every turn on this issue (some of this as a direct result of their own actions, but the anger has been greatly magnified by the PR debacle afflicting Irish Water). When you are having to continually explain your actions, then you are losing your argument.

Fianna Fail, not for the first time, has failed to capitalise on the Government's travails. They have remained stubbornly anchored to the 20pc mark for most of this year.

The main beneficiary has been Sinn Fein. Given the constant barrage by Fine Gael in particular over the Mairia Cahill affair, they will breathe a sigh of relief.

Their current standing, at 26pc, is their highest rating so far in this series of polls. Their Teflon-esque ability to deflect attention from the past is as strong as ever.

Their communications machine is well oiled and their accusation that the Cahill affair was being used for political point scoring seems to have resonated with some.

Of course, there is an argument that has been made that the support for Sinn Fein has a soft underbelly. They have capitalised on, and articulated, the public's fear on water charges (although even they were outflanked by Paul Murphy's victory in Dublin SW). The singularity of a message of opposition may gain them some kudos in the short term, but as a long-term strategy is this really feasible? Look no further than Stormont.

Looking at the performance of party leaders, there is an undercurrent of frustration coming through. Dissatisfaction with all of them has increased sharply, reflecting the disillusionment that many are feeling. All party leaders have a dissatisfaction rating of more than 50pc - hardly a compelling endorsement.

Enda Kenny has suffered most; two in three of the population are unhappy with his performance (up nine points). Unhappiness with Joan Burton has increased by eight points, Micheal Martin by six points and Gerry Adams by eight points.

Whilst none of the party leaders have covered themselves in glory, it is interesting to note that whilst Sinn Fein as a party has gained four points in this poll (a historical high and the first time they have nudged ahead of the field in these polls), dissatisfaction with their leader has increased notably. On the basis of these results, it would seem that opinions on the party and its leader are going in opposite directions. Whether this is a function of there being a current sense of a "plague on all the (leaders') houses", or something more fundamental is open to interpretation.

Regardless of the ebbs and flows of public opinion towards the main players, it seems there is something more deeply flawed within the current structure. Less than three in 10 (29pc) have trust in the current party political system, and less than one in 10 (9pc) having a lot of trust.

Contrast this with 65pc expressing reservations about the current status quo - nearly half of us (45pc) have no trust at all. As you would expect, supporters of the Government parties have most faith (68pc of FG supporters, but interestingly just 41pc of Labour supporters). More affluent ABs (the professional classes) also have more belief in the system. Those most critical are SF and Independent supporters, along with those from a lower socio economic background.

Whether this is a knee-jerk reaction to more recent events, or a more fundamental issue with party political ideology is debatable. In the short term at least, one thing is clear - the public is losing patience.

Paul Moran is an associate director with Millward Brown

Sunday Independent