Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein most popular party in Republic of Ireland as support for independents falls sharply

By Jody Corcoran

Sinn Fein is currently the most popular political party in the Republic of Ireland, according to a new opinion poll.

A Sunday Independent/Millward Brown survey published yesterday shows that Gerry Adams' party has enjoyed a rise in support which now sits at 26%.

The republican party sits just 1% ahead of Fine Gael, indicating that it will be a straight fight between Adams and Taoiseach Enda Kenny to lead the next Irish Government.

Both parties have benefited from a sharp drop in support for independents and have now emerged as the clear frontrunners to lead any potential new coalition.

In theory, the Sinn Fein president could be leading the Irish Government if support for his party stays high until the next election, which must take place no later than April 2016 - the centenary of the Easter Rising.

As a party leader, Adams has also recorded an increase in his personal satisfaction ratings, which has risen by six points to 29%. The increase is noteworthy given events of the last year, which have seen his leadership and Sinn Fein questioned.

Last April Adams, who is now a TD in Louth after giving up his Westminster seat in West Belfast, was arrested in connection with the murder of Jean McConville.

He spent four days in custody being questioned about the abduction, killing and burial of the mother-of-10 in 1972.

The 37-year-old widow from west Belfast was secretly buried and became one of the Disappeared. Her body was found on a beach in Co Louth in 2003. Mr Adams has consistently denied any involvement in her abduction and murder.

Sinn Fein was also under heavy pressure over its handling of sex abuse claims made by Belfast woman Mairia Cahill. She said she was raped as a teenager by a suspected IRA man, and that the IRA later helped to cover it up. Five people who were prosecuted as a result of her claims were later acquitted, after she withdrew her evidence.

Sinn Fein faced criticism after Ms Cahill's claims that she was subjected to an investigation by the Provisional IRA. Mr Adams later said there was no doubt that Ms Cahill had suffered great distress, but insisted that his party had acted in good faith.

Overall, the poll showed that leaders of all the main political parties in the south recorded increases in their personal satisfaction ratings.

Mr Kenny's support is up three points to 24%; Tanaiste Joan Burton is up one point to 23%; Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin is up five points to 29%, while Mr Adams is up six points.

Sinn Fein presently has 14 seats in the 166-seat Dail.

Background

Gerry Adams (66) is the longest serving party leader in Ireland, having been elected president in 1983. In 2011, he resigned his West Belfast Westminster seat and stood for the Dail in Louth. Adams' leadership was questioned after his brother Liam was convicted of sexual abuse. It came into focus again after Adams was arrested in connection with the murder of Jean McConville last year. Sinn Fein was also criticised over its handling of the Mairia Cahill sex abuse claims.

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