With local and European elections less than three weeks away, the latest poll shows satisfaction with the Dublin government has slumped to an extraordinary record low of just ten per cent.
The poll indicated a six-point rise in support for Fine Gael to 38 per cent. That puts the largest opposition party in th 26 Counties at its highest level of support for a quarter of a century, giving it a massive 17-point lead over Fianna Fail. Support for the Taoiseach Brian Cowen stand at just 18%.
The rise in Fine Gael support appears to have coincided with the unveiling of the former high-profile television economics reporter George Lee as the party’s candidate in the Dublin South byelection, also being held on June 5th.
A massive 86 per cent of the voters are now dissatisfied with the performance of the Government and that figure rises to 89 per cent in Dublin.
Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said the poll reflected what he had been hearing across the country for the last twelve months that “people are really angry at the way government has misused their money, wasted opportunities, destroyed careers and dashed hopes”.
Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern said Fianna Fail’s poor showing was the price the Government was paying for making tough decisions.
Mr Ahern said: “If the price of getting Ireland through this very tough situation is making tough decisions that court unpopularity then so be it.”
Among Green Party supporters the figures show an astounding 93 per cent are dissatisfied with the way the coalition government -- including two Green Party Ministers -- is running the country.
Green Party leader John Gormley said: “There is anger out there. People are losing their jobs, they are uncertain about their future, they can’t get credit at the banks if they have small businesses.”
Mr Gormley said the Greens would stay in government as long as their programme was being implemented, but were open to other alliances. The predicted decimation of Fianna Fail in these elections will bring unprecedented pressure on the coalition, and pundits are already predicting a general election in the autumn.
Meanwhile, support for the Labour Party has dropped 4 per cent, back down to 20 per cent, according to the poll. It reflects anecdotal reports that a large number of voters remain undecided or have been shifting allegiances in the run-up to the election. Intensive efforts are being made by all of the parties at the moment to capture this unprecedented ‘floating vote’.
This week also saw the close of nominations for the European elections, with a total of 51 candidates, including 14 outgoing MEPs, competing for 15 seats across the country.
A row between Sinn Féin Vice President Mary Lou McDonald and Labour’s Proinsias de Rossa has set the tone in the hard-fought Dublin constituency, where one seat must be eliminated in this election.
McDonald accused de Rossa of lying over his record in the European parliament, where he controversially voted against respecting the outcome of Ireland’s first referendum on the EU’s Lisbon Treaty.
“Not only did Proinsias de Rossa vote against the amendment he then went on to justify this shameful decision on the basis that it was, and I quote, a ‘a Sinn Féin stunt’ that the parliament could not enforce anyway,” she said.
“It is incomprehensible to me why Proinsias would deem it appropriate or right to lie like this on national television. And his decision poses a far more serious question. If he can so shamelessly lie about something like this what else is he not being straight about.”
Both incumbent MEPs are likely to be battling with Fianna Fail’s MEP Eoin Ryan and independent Patricia McKenna for the last two seats in the constituency.
Meanwhile, the new pan-European right-wing party Libertas, led by Irishman Declan Ganley, is making a big push to secure a seat in the North-West constituency, where Ganley is himself competing.
The party, which came to prominence in the first referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, is running 300 candidates in 24 EU states in the European elections. Ganley told journalists this week that he will step down as Libertas leader if he does not get elected in the North West constituency.
“That is democracy,” he said. “I can take No for an answer, unlike other people.”
A last-minute and highly strategic Fianna Fail decision to run Donegal-based TD Pat ‘The Cope’ Gallagher in the North-West constituency is intended to stave off the challenge from Sinn Féin’s Padraig MacLochlainn, who also hails from Donegal, as well as from Ganley.
The senior Fianna Fail politician is understood to have little interest in the European Parliament, but if successful, he will be required to resign his seat in the Dail.
Libertas said Gallagher had been forced into running for the seat.
“Everybody knows that Pat is a decent man who didn’t want to run, doesn’t want to win, and has no interest in being an MEP. He has been essentially bullied into this by Brian Cowen, who is more interested in protecting his party than looking after the country,” said Mr Ganley.
In total, Fianna Fail is running eight candidates; Fine Gael, seven; Labour,four; Sinn Féin, five; the Green Party, two; Libertas, three; and the Socialist Party, one. There are 14 Independent candidates.
Voting takes place on Friday, June 5th, but the first count will not be revealed until after 9pm on June 7th, to take account of Sunday voting in most EU member states.
In the North, seven candidates are competing for a further three seats, including four unionists, two nationalists and the Green Party. The election there takes place on June 4th.
Fianna Fail is running two candidates in each of the constituencies in the 26 Counties. Three of them -- Liam Aylward in Ireland East (formerly Leinster), Brian Crowley in Ireland South (formerly Munster) and Eoin Ryan in Dublin -- are outgoing MEPs. The fourth Fianna Fail MEP, Sean O Neachtain (Ireland North West) has withdrawn from the race.
Fine Gael won five seats in the last European election in 2004 and its seven candidates this time include four outgoing MEPs .
Labour is running a candidate in each European constituency, including the party’s outgoing MEP, Proinsias De Rossa in Dublin.
The five Sinn Féin candidates include the party vice-president and MEP for Dublin, Mary Lou McDonald, as well as two candidates in the East constituency, Kathleen Funchion and Tomas Sharkey. Toireasa Ferris, daughter of Sinn Féin TD Martin Ferris, is a contender in South and Padraig Mac Lochlainn will run in North West. Sitting MEP Bairbre de Brun will be defending her seat in the North.
Two Independent MEPs are seeking re-election: Marian Harkin in North West and Kathy Sinnott in South. There are 12 other Independent candidates.