Support for Irish PM, party down in polls

Support for Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen is less than half what it was when he took office in May 2008, an opinion poll published on Sunday showed.

Only 31 percent of those questioned for a Red C/Sunday Business Post poll said Cowen was “a safe pair of hands”, down from 74 percent in April 2008, before the collapse of the property market plunged Ireland into a record recession.

Support for the ruling Fianna Fail party, which got a boost after an austerity budget adopted in December, fell to 24 percent, a drop of three percentage points from a 27 percent approval rating in January and February.

Backing for the junior coalition partner Green Party held steady at 5 percent, the poll found.

Among the opposition parties, Fine Gael’s popularity increased by a point to 35 percent and Labour’s was unchanged at 17 percent.

The Irish government’s tough measures, including harsh public spending cuts, have won praise across Europe as decisive action to turn around the economy.

They also won the backing of the public, whose support for the government rose by four points in Red C’s January opinion poll and stabilised in February.

But a cabinet reshuffle last week failed to impress and the government faces huge challenges, with major announcements on how the ailing banks will be shored up expected this week.

Unions have been waging a campaign of low-level disruption against the austerity measures, but there is little public sympathy for the inconvenience caused, with only a fifth surveyed backing the industrial action.

Red C interviewed 1,000 adults by phone.

In a poll in the Sunday Independent, carried out by Quantum Research with a smaller sample of 200 homes, 66 percent said Cowen should resign as prime minister and 79 percent said they did not believe they could depend on parliament to solve the country’s problems.

Another general election is not scheduled until 2012.

(Reporting by Barbara Lewis; Editing by Michael Roddy)