Andrew Lynch: Poll has just one winner - and an awful lot of losers

Andrew Lynch

Over the past few days, Brian Cowen has been making a determined effort to look more cheerful in public.

This weekend, he must really feel like a prisoner on death row who's just been given a stay of execution. The first opinion poll since Garglegate is certainly bad for the Taoiseach, but probably not quite desperate enough to trigger a leadership challenge within Fianna Fail.

Instead, the real story here is the amazing surge in support for the Labour Party -- combined with Enda Kenny's ongoing failure to persuade the public that he's up to the job.


To put it bluntly, this is a poll with one winner and an awful lot of losers.

Eamon Gilmore must be careful to avoid looking too cocky in public, but the Labour leader could be forgiven for cutting out some of today's headlines and framing them on his office wall. When delegates started waving 'Gilmore for Taoiseach' around at party conferences, a lot of FF and FG people thought it was a joke. They're not laughing now.

Gilmore's strategy of constantly hammering the Government while offering few concrete ideas of his own is certainly a little on the cynical side. With his party rocketing into first place at an incredible 35pc, however, it's clearly working like a dream. The big question now is whether Labour has the organisation and the candidates to translate that figure into Dail seats at the General Election.

Labour's rise is obviously bad news for Fine Gael, who have suffered yet another drop in support for both their leader and the party itself. When Enda Kenny saw off Richard Bruton's challenge in June, his supporters hoped that the steel he showed would transform his public image.

That clearly hasn't happened -- with just 19pc of people favouring him as the next Taoiseach.

On these figures, FG would still be part of the next government. Their real fear is that they could end up as junior coalition partners to Labour, with Gilmore and his colleagues taking all the plum jobs.

With just half of FG's supporters backing Kenny, the rumblings against him will continue -- but at this stage, the time for another leadership heave is fast running out.

As for the Taoiseach, he will be sobered by the negative reaction to his notorious Morning Ireland interview. The poll's finding that 90pc of people say it won't affect their vote is no great comfort, since it suggests that they'd made their minds up against him already.

Cowen's one ray of sunshine is the fact that only 22pc of FF voters want him to stand down, suggesting he's more popular with the party's grassroots than he is with his own TDs.

For the smaller parties, meanwhile, this poll contains nothing but bad news. Sinn Fein have seen their support halved to just 4pc.

At a dismal 2pc, the Greens are in danger of being completely wiped out -- with 79pc of their voters unhappy with the Government and John Gormley almost as unpopular as Cowen himself.


If the Taoiseach were to quit, then Brian Lenihan is the public's favourite to replace him. However, the most blindingly obvious result of this poll is that the Government must avoid facing the voters for as long as is decently possible.

That's why a leadership heave looks less likely than it did at the beginning of the week -- because with several Independent TDs getting restless, rocking the boat could easily cause FF to sink without trace.

Barring the most incredible turnaround in Irish political history, FG and Labour will be getting into bed together after the next election. The only remaining question is who will get to hog the duvet.