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Stunned silence is the best FG can muster as Labour increases lead

ENDA Kenny was today facing fresh questions about his Fine Gael leadership after his party's support fell to Fianna Fail levels.

A new opinion poll put Fine Gael's popularity at 24pc, down 3pc from the last similar survey in June.

The poll revealed Mr Kenny's party is now trailing Eamon Gilmore's Labour - which received 33pc of the vote - by a massive nine percentage points.

Fianna Fail's support was at 24pc, up 3pc on the June sample.

Fine Gael TDs and senators were at a weekly parliamentary party meeting when news of the poll emerged.

It is understood Mr Kenny read the results out but made no comment.

His announcement was met with a shocked silence, with TDs afterwards describing the results as a disaster for the party.

Just 55pc of his own supporters are satisfied with his performance, while 36pc are dissatisfied, figures show.

In the wake of the results, opponents of Mr Kenny's leadership are refusing to rule out a second heave following June's failed coup.

Although Richard Bruton is now seen as "damaged", sources said that others such as Brian Hayes could try to revitalise the party.

"It is a possibility, but it will have to be planned better.

"Last time was a bit chaotic so I don't think anybody will be doing anything without double checking the numbers," a source told the Herald.

Labour jumped to the top of the latest poll with a four-point increase, making it the most popular party in the country.

To make matters worse for Fine Gael, Mr Kenny's personal popularity rating was at just 25pc, only six points clear of Taoiseach Brian Cowen.

Mr Kenny's rating is a staggering 24pc off Mr Gilmore's, who is leading the pack at 49pc.

The Ipsos MRBI poll was carried out in 43 constituencies at the height of the 'pairing' row this week.

Fine Gael was widely criticised during the controversy for attempting to block Education Minister Mary Coughlan's attendance at a jobs and education mission in the US.

Labour's support levels were similar to the ones it enjoyed in last week's Millward Brown Lansdowne poll for TV3, which put Labour on 35pc.

Mr Cowen's popularity ratings are still low on 19pc.