Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein surge in opinion poll

Sinn Fein has joined ruling Fine Gael as the most popular party in Ireland, according to the first opinion poll since the local and European elections.

And despite the controversy over the arrest of Gerry Adams in connection with the murder of Jean McConville, he was the only party leader to see an improvement in the popularity ratings among voters.

Reflecting the trends in last month's elections, Sinn Fein and Independent candidates particularly are capitalising on a backlash by Irish voters against the traditional mainstream parties and bailout-imposed austerity measures.

Bearing the brunt is the junior government coalition partner Labour, whose support has has plunged 7% among voters.

Amid an intensifying battle for the leadership of the party - after Tanaiste (deputy prime minister) Eamon Gilmore stood aside ahead of an expected heave - its support has nosedived from 11% to just 4%.

The Red C poll, carried out for bookmaker Paddy Power, also reveals a 3% drop in support for ruling Fine Gael, down to 22% - one of their lowest showings since being elected to power in 2011.

Fianna Fail has also dipped in the popularity stakes by 3% to leave them securing 18% of the overall vote, according to the study.

This is only 1% higher than they performed after their disastrous outing at the last general election, as voters punished them for their governing role during the economic collapse.

Sinn Fein is up 4% in the poll to 22% support - making it the most popular party in the country alongside Fine Gael.

Independents have cornered nearly a third of the electorate's votes, rising 9% up to 32%.

Despite an improved showing in the local and European elections, the Green Party sunk 1% to 2% popular support while 12% of voters said they were undecided.

Pollsters interviewed a random sample of 1,006 adults aged 18 and over by telephone between June 9 and 12 for the survey.

Respondents were asked who they would give their first preference vote to if a general election was called tomorrow.

Labour will pay particular attention to the findings on potential successors to Mr Gilmore, who quit as leader in the wake of the party's humiliating collapse at last month's elections.

When asked about new leaders, social protection minister Joan Burton is the clear favourite with 55% of all voters and 61% of all Labour voters backing her to take the top party post and role as Tanaiste.

Her only rival Alex White, a junior health minister in the coalition, is the favourite among 30% of all voters and 36% of the traditional Labour voters.

The poll forecasts a definite 6% jump in popularity if Ms Burton takes the reins - with the potential to grow support to a fifth of the electorate.

Earlier this week, Ms Burton ruled out the possibility of going into government with Sinn Fein under her leadership, condemning the party's links to the IRA.

Labour took only 50 or 5% of seats on offer in the local government elections and returned none of its three MEPs, one of whom resigned and ran as an Independent.

Sinn Fein trebled its representation on councils and saw four MEPs elected on the island of Ireland.

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