Irish Coalition Faces Losses as Kenny Regrets `Whingers' Remark

  • Election date set for Feb. 26 as goverment warns of risks
  • Fine Gael-Labour alliance well short of majority, polls shows

Ireland’s ruling coalition faces a struggle to keep its majority, polls showed, as the nation’s general election campaign entered its final week with Prime Minister Enda Kenny becoming embroiled in a controversy over comments he made about opponents.

Combined support for Kenny’s Fine Gael-Labour alliance stands at 34 percent, an Ipsos/MRBI poll for the Irish Times released on Monday in Dublin showed. A Sunday Times poll gave the coalition the same support, while a Sunday Independent survey pointed to 33 percent. The grouping drew 38 percent support, the Sunday Business Post said, citing a Red C poll.

“It seems unlikely the incumbents can retain power by themselves, although a ‘rainbow’ coalition that involves a smaller party and/or independents cannot be entirely ruled out at this stage, ” said Philip O’Sullivan, an economist at Investec Plc in Dublin.

Kenny and his coalition partners in the Labour Party are pitching the election as a battle between stability and chaos, represented by the previous administration led by Fianna Fail and anti-austerity parties such as Sinn Fein, as threats to the economy multiply. The government’s campaign suffered a setback on Monday, with Kenny saying he regretted any offense caused when he termed his Fianna Fail opponents “whingers” on Saturday.

Fianna Fail drew between 18 percent and 23 percent support across the polls, compared with 17 percent in the 2011 election. Bookmaker Paddy Power makes a first-ever grand alliance between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail the most likely election outcome, though both parties have ruled out the possibility so far.

“Our differences with Fine Gael are large and growing,” Micheal Martin, Fianna Fail’s leader, said in a speech in Kenny’s Mayo heartland on Saturday. “People don’t want to just keep going. They don’t want the growing unfairness and division of this government.

While Sinn Fein’s support has risen to between 15 and 19 percent from 10 percent five years ago, all of the other three biggest parties have ruled out governing with the former political wing of the Irish Republican Army.

The spread between Ireland’s 10-year benchmark government bonds and German securities of a similar maturity has increased to 79 basis points from 44 basis points just over a month ago. Still, the nation’s debt office this month auctioned 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) of 10-year bonds at a record-low yield, even as an inconclusive election result looms.

Any of the potential combinations, all involving Fine Gael, would be unlikely to change government policies “to any meaningful extent,” said O’Sullivan. “This will reassure the market.”

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