DUBLIN – Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny’s Fine Gael party recovered from a recent slide in popularity in two opinion polls on Saturday, but his junior coalition partners fell to their lowest-ever level ahead of a national election.
Ireland will vote on Friday in what promises to be a tight contest that opinion polls suggest may fail to produce a stable government.
The eurozone nation has the highest economic growth rate in the European Union — 7.0 percent in the first nine months of last year — but many voters say they are not feeling the benefit and are disillusioned after years of sacrifices and a financial crisis that has discredited Ireland’s elite.
Thousands of protesters marched through Dublin on Saturday to call for an end to austerity measures.
The “Right2Change” demonstration brought together a range of anti-austerity groups under the banner of opposing controversial water charges, which have crystallized anger over a rise in poverty, budget cuts and tax hikes since an economic crisis and bailout in 2010. The water issue has galvanized opposition to austerity after the government began charging households for water, rather than financing through general taxation, as had been done previously.
National broadcaster RTE estimated up to 20,000 attended the march, which brought central Dublin to a halt as it snaked through the capital before the crowds filled a major thoroughfare to hear speakers address a rally.
Attending the rally were leaders of the left-wing republican party Sinn Fein, whose popularity has risen to historic highs in polls as it embraced an anti-austerity stance.
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said ahead of the protest: “For the vast majority of families there is no recovery. Next Friday citizens have a choice between more of the same or . . . a new government that will ensure working families are given a break.”
Kenny’s Fine Gael, whose support had fallen to a six-month low of 26 percent in the most recent poll on Tuesday, bounced back to 30 percent in both the Sunday Business Post/Red C and Sunday Times/Behaviour & Attitudes surveys.
Kenny is campaigning to return to power with his junior partner Labour, which fell by 1 point to 8 percent in the Red C poll and dropped 2 points to just 4 percent in the Behaviour & Attitudes survey, a level the party questioned.
“Having spent many, many hours on the doors and talked to candidates across the country, one thing I’m certain of is that the Labour Party is on considerably more than 4 percent,” Public Spending Minister Brendan Howlin of Labour told the national broadcaster RTE.
A third poll by the Sunday Independent/Millward Brown had support for the two government parties unchanged, with Fine Gael at 27 percent and Labour at 6 percent.
At a combined 38 percent in the best of the polls, the parties would still be 11 seats short of the 80 needed to secure a majority, according to Adrian Kavanagh, a politics lecturer at National University of Ireland, Maynooth, who analyses each poll.
All three polls suggested that the only hope of a stable government would be an unprecedented coalition between Fine Gael and its archrival, Fianna Fail, which rose in two of the surveys to stand at between 18 and 23 percent.
The two center-right parties improved at the expense of the left-wing Sinn Fein, which fell in all three polls to between 15 and 19 percent.
If the coalition parties are unable to gain the added support needed, or at least come close enough to cobble together a majority with independents or smaller parties, that may spell a period of political instability or fresh elections.