DUBLIN Feb 12 Ireland's main opposition party
Fine Gael has extended its lead over its nearest rivals, a new
opinion poll showed on Saturday, potentially putting the
centre-right party within a shot of an outright majority
The Sunday Business Post/Red C poll put the centre-right
Fine Gael's support up 3 points to 38 percent and nearing the 40
percent mark that analysts believe it would need to break to
secure an overall majority.
The centre-left Labour Party was pegged back two points to
20 percent, while the ruling Fianna Fail party slipped 2 points
to 15 percent, as it nears the likely end of its near 14 years
Fine Gael and Labour have been widely expected to form a
coalition government after the Feb. 25 election, which has been
dominated by the country's financial meltdown and anger over the
terms of the 85 billion euro bailout by the EU and IMF.
But the latest poll suggests Fine Gael could form a
government without the Labour Party, and perhaps with the
support of independents, if it can maintain the momentum.
According to the poll, support for independent candidates
was up 3 points to 14 percent, Sinn Fein fell 3 points to 10
percent and the Greens rose 1 point to 3 percent.
"You do need to be breaking 40 percent to be getting an
overall majority," politics lecturer Theresa Reidy of University
College Cork told Reuters.
Reidy said Labour could be facing challenges, as the
"soft-right" vote drifts back to Fine Gael and the "soft-left"
moves towards the United Left Alliance and Sinn Fein.
"It's possible that Labour has lost some of its soft support
that it picked up earlier in the year when it ran with lots of
angry rhetoric," she said. "The problem is now that policies are
having to be spelt out in a lot of detail."
Both Fine Gael and Labour have pledged to renegotiate the
EU/IMF package as they seek a cut in the cost of the external
assistance but they are opposed on many other areas of policy
and a coalition of the two would be far from straightforward.
On Saturday they clashed as Fine Gael's finance spokesman
Michael Noonan dismissed Labour as a "high tax party" that would
hurt growth, while Labour responded that their prospective
partners were siding with "the wealthiest bankers" in society.
However Reidy said voters in Ireland were used to coalition
government and said parties who neared the 40 percent mark in
previous election polls had often then slipped back.
"It hasn't always played very well for parties when it looks
like they're going to get an overall majority," she said.
The poll was taken among over 1,000 voters.