13 June 2018; Leo Varadkar, T.D, on Centre Stage during day two of MoneyConf 2018 at the RDS Arena in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/MoneyConf via Sportsfile

Oct 25, 2020 | Ireland, Opinion | 0 comments

Fine Gael Flying High in Polls, Prove Immune to Government Troubles

13 June 2018; An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, T.D, on Centre Stage during day two of MoneyConf 2018 at the RDS Arena in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/MoneyConf via Sportsfile
Stephen Moynihan

Written by Stephen Moynihan

Fine Gael top the latest Red C poll, with Sinn Féin in second and Fianna Fáil languishing behind at a measly 11%,

6min Read

Stephen Moynihan

Written by Stephen Moynihan

6min Read

Fine Gael top the latest Red C poll, with Sinn Féin in second and Fianna Fáil languishing behind at a measly 11%,

Fine Gael achieved their best score in almost ten years in the latest opinion poll conducted by Red C for The Sunday Business Post, with 37% of those who expressed a preference stating that they would vote for the party.

With only 48% of people approving of government performance just two weeks ago, according to an Ipsos-MRBI poll conducted for the Irish Times, this will be a performance that will bring delight to supporters of the party. 

Leo Varadkar’s very public disagreement with the National Public Health Emergency Team on Claire Byrne Live and his public comments on government policy have surely played a role in this. As one of the most well-known and outspoken figures in Irish politics, with a clear willingness to “go against the grain”, he has set himself up as the rebellious, anti-establishment figure within government.

From a logical perspective, squaring this circle is difficult. How is a public which disapproves of the government so enthused by a party with a large portion of seats in this government, several ministries, and which, in a certain sense, “lost” the last election in only February? 

My suggestion would be that Fine Gael have set themselves up as largely benign within the government, allowing Fianna Fáil and the Green Party to take the fall on these failures. It’s hard to see how this can be sustained going forward. Yes, Paschal Donohoe played his role in the Budget, but in many ways this was a non-event. Whether they like it or not, Fine Gael are in government, and the failures of their previous term are only being masked by the COVID crisis. They’ll have to become more active going forward and confront these issues, especially as Varadkar takes over as Taoiseach in two years’ time.  

Micheál Martin’s distant and cold personality, coupled with his predominant focus on policy and analytical mind, puts a limit on his appeal from a personality perspective. Politically speaking, the Taoiseach has to take ownership of the difficult choices being made. An unpopular Taoiseach always means an unpopular party, with their 11% in today’s Red C poll evidence of this. Stephen Donnelly’s gaffe-ridden term as Minister for Health so far will also be doing Fianna Fáil no favours, and the hangover from the double-Minister for Agriculture scandals is surely still playing its part.

It’s hard not to feel that the Greens, on the other hand, were always doomed. There’s been an exodus of young and progressive members from the party, most notably Saoirse McHugh, since they went into coalition with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. Their policies were always going to be a difficult sell in a country with a large rural population, a dependence on agriculture, and a love of the car. Adding internal conflict on top of this has just exacerbated the problem. It’s no surprise to see them at 6%. 

Sinn Féin, on 27%, are performing consistently, although there must be some disappointment in that they’re not taking advantage of the government’s unpopularity. Their silence on COVID-related issues has at times been deafening, and has impaired their ability to make inroads in a time of crisis. “Never let a good crisis go to waste”, they say, but unfortunately for Sinn Féin the COVID crisis might just be. Holding steady is better than treading water, however.

The smaller parties of the left hold a total of 8% between them, with Labour at 3%, the Social Democrats at 3% and Solidarity-People Before Profit at 2%. Despite their valiant attempts at raising issues with government failures, they are seeing little changes in terms of popularity which will have to come as a disappointment to them. #SocDemSurge is trending on Twitter, but it doesn’t appear to be in the wider population.

Seeing Fine Gael at the top of the table will be a painful sight for parties of the left, but overall the signs are not ominous. Each party will feel there is plenty of room for improvement and they are all free of scandals, with the exception of Sinn Féin who are facing criticism for, what one might call, “creative use of funding rules” in the United Kingdom.

It’s still a long way to the next general election and this Dáil does seem to still be finding its feet. This poll does provide an interesting snapshot in time, nonetheless.

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