26 April 2009

Latest Poll shows Fianna Fáil in Melt-Down

Every month the Red C polling organisation produces a nationwide political poll for the Sunday Business Post, Ireland's leading economical weekly.
The latest of these polls, published in today's edition of the paper, must make grim reading for the Irish government and especially for its majority party Fianna Fáil.

Being in power (with support from the Progressive Democrats and - since 2007 - the Green Party) since her rather surprising election win in 1997, Fianna Fáil enjoyed an unprecedented decade of widespread public support, riding on the wave of the unexpected economic boom known commonly as the 'Celtic Tiger'.
This boom was - as we now know - nothing but an artificial bubble, created by a relaxed and incompetent government, irresponsible banking, criminal speculations and a mad drive to build ever more houses and apartments without having a real demand for them.
When the bubble eventually burst last year, we found ourselves close to national bankruptcy and the unbelievable incompetence of both our government and our banks was exposed for everyone to see.

Although unrelated, the burst of the bubble happened shortly after the Irish electorate defeated the government - and all opposition parties except Sinn Féin - by rejecting the Lisbon Treaty.

Bertie Ahern, who was Taoiseach (Prime Minister) since 1997 and must surely have known only too well what was coming down the political and economical road, had jumped ship just in time to leave his successor (and previously deputy) Brian Cowen in complete charge of the developing political crisis and financial melt-down.

Ever since the once high popularity of Fianna Fáil has been in freefall. The government's 2009 Budget - brought forward to October 2008 - did further damage to the party, and the various forced additions to it made things even worse. The latest - the 'supplementary' or 'emergency' Budget presented by Finance Minister Brian Lenihan less than three weeks ago - seems to have delivered the final devastating blow to Fianna Fáil and its political future.

Today's Red C poll shows the party in complete melt-down, with only 23% of the electorate still supporting the faltering Fianna Fáil, whose incompetence and arrogance are creating ever more and ever widespread anger in all sections of the Irish population. This is the lowest rating of public support for Fianna Fáil in the party's history.

Not surprisingly the biggest winner is Fine Gael, Ireland's largest opposition party, which has been on the rise since last Autumn and gained a further two points this month, bringing it to an unprecedented 33%, ten percentage points ahead of Fianna Fáil.

The Labour Party, second-largest force in opposition and the potential coalition partner for Fine Gael, also improved her rising support by another two points to now 19%. This is clearly a reaction to the excellent parliamentary performance of party leader Eamon Gilmore and his deputy (and spokesperson on Finance) Joan Burton.

The Green Party, in coalition with Fianna Fáil since 2007 and facing internal opposition from a growing group of its traditional members and supporters ever since, seems so far unscaved by the government's massive unpopularity and remains unchanged on 7%. But this figure could be deceptive. The party has no chance to win a seat in the European election in June, and it is more than doubtful that it can perform well in the Local Government elections held on the same day. In recent months the Greens have lost two of their most prominent local councillors, and in some constituencies their previous candidates have decided not to stand for the party this year.

Sinn Féin, the smallest of the three opposition parties in parliament, gained one point in this month's poll and now stands on 8%, moving slightly ahead of the Green Party. It is perhaps a surprise that Ireland's oldest political party (and the only one active in the North as well as in the Republic) is not receiving more public support in the wake of the Fianna Fáil melt-down. There are several reasons for this, but the most significant is that - despite its now totally peaceful and democratic approach and its leading participation in the power-sharing government in the North - Sinn Féin is still not making inroads into Ireland's middle classes. This could change if the party can win stronger support from younger people, especially the growing student population, which is so far still predominantly non-political and more interested in 'fun' and an easy life. Increasing hardship and the expected re-introduction of fees for third-level education could change that.

The group listed in the Red C poll as 'Independents and others', which includes a number of smaller parties without parliamentary representation, remains - again - unchanged on 10% of public support. It is not clear if the poll has taken into account a number of newly formed groups, many of which have nominated candidates for the Local Government elections in June. They are so far a widely unknown quantity, but could attract a significant percentage of protest votes.

For the first time the poll features the new pan-european party Libertas, which emerged out of the prominent Anti-Lisbon campaign group with the same name and intends to have candidates for the European Parliament in all 27 member states of the EU. The poll registers so far only 2% of public support for Libertas in Ireland, which seems a very low figure, given the strong and effective campaign the organisation mounted in their successful defeat of the Lisbon Treaty.
But it is not unusual that polling organisations need a certain amount of time to assess the true strength of new parties.

Based on today's figures one can however be certain that Fianna Fáil will suffer serious losses in both the European and Local Government elections on June 5th. There is also no doubt that the two up-coming Dublin by-elections for the Dail will not produce any new Fianna Fáil TD.

Depending on the severity of their losses in June, Fianna Fáil could well face a leadership crisis or even an internal rebellion during the summer. The position of Brian Cowen, who was elected as party leader and Taoiseach without contest last May, is far from secure now. There is still the traditional and rather stubborn loyalty to a leader for which Fianna Fáil has always been known, but ever since the (now independent) Wicklow TD Joe Behan left the party last year, there is a slowly but steadily widening crack developing between the cabinet and the backbenches.
An even wider gap exists now between most Fianna Fáil politicians and the people of Ireland, and the future of our main government party is very bleak, to put it mildly.

The Emerald Islander

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