A matter of opinion
BY ROBBIE MacGABHANN
The poll shows that Sinn Féin is the emerging opposition outside the big three established parties
Take 1,004 people from 100 locations around the country and ask them a series of questions on the politics of the day. What do you get? Well, apart from a lot of headlines and John Bruton facing an internal party heave, you also have an electorate that sees Sinn Féin in a different light from that articulated by the leaders of Leinster House political parties. These were just some of the consequences of a poll published by the Irish Independent this week.
All the Leinster House political parties leaders have come out to tell us how they would not favour entering into a coalition with Sinn Féin until there is either disbandment of the IRA or, to use the words of the IMS poll, ``clear evidence of decommissioning''.
But what do party voters think on the issue? This week's Irish Independent poll shows that 45% of voters think that if Sinn Féin holds the balance of power after the next Leinster House election the party should be included in any coalition, even if there is no evidence of decommissioning.
Across the political spectrum this translated into 36% of Fine Gael voters supported Sinn Féin's inclusion. 56% of Labour supporters were in favour of Sinn Féin compared with 45% of Fianna Fáil's. Only in Fine Gael were there 50% of voters opposed to Sinn Féin in government.
In the poll itself Sinn Féin showed at 5% overall support. Even though there is a need to take account of the potential margin of error, the poll still shows that Sinn Féin is the emerging opposition outside the big three established parties.
Much was made in the news surrounding the poll of the apparent resurgence in support for the coalition. Both Fianna Fáil and the PDs showed increases in party support, up to 39% and 3% respectively, while Fine Gael and Labour showed drops in support, down to 19% and 10%, respectively. The satisfaction ratings of Ahern and Harney also shot up, as voters seem to have put aside their annoyance at the O'Flaherty debacle.
The fact that this poll was taken just days after the early week's rail and school strikes shows a teflonesque aspect to the government. When you add in the u-turns on abortion legislation and the local government bill this should have been the week where Bruton and Quinn hammered home their party message and swayed public opinion in their favour.
Fine Gael is the most damaged, as last weekend saw the launch of their new Plan for the Nation and now one of the most senior TDs, Austin Deasy has proposed a motion of no-confidence in Bruton for today's parliamentary party meeting. Fine Gael should be in the mode of presenting themselves as an alternative government rather than sharpening the knives for each other.
Labour's Ruairi Quinn has been fairly silent since the poll was published. Maybe he is mulling over his failure to make an impact in what should be a target rich environment for any opposition leader, especially where social justice issues are dominating the news.
You could argue that it is not that Ahern or Harney are doing a particularly good job that is driving up their approval ratings, rather, it is that the alternative of Quinn and Bruton is so bland it just makes the current coalition look the best of a bad situation.
Many political forecasters would have picked next May or June as the likely election date, but now it seems that with so little effective opposition from Fine Gael and Labour this government could go full term and we may not get to cast votes until 2002.
What a prospect! Do we really deserve another 18 months of the bland leading the bland, or maybe, like this week's poll, that's just a matter of opinion.