DUBLIN - Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny's Fine Gael party slumped into third place behind Sinn Fein in an opinion poll on Thursday as its popularity collapsed to an 11-year low amid a surge in support for independents.
Kenny's party emerged from an international bailout Ireland completed a year ago as the most popular party but has had a wretched year, with recent mass protests against new water charges exposing frustration over an uneven economic recovery.
Only 19 per cent of voters said they favoured the centre-right party, down 6 percentage points since October. Sinn Fein became the most popular party despite also falling two points since the last poll, to 22 per cent.
The "Independents and others" group rose a stunning nine points to 32 per cent, an all-time high in the Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll, raising the prospect of a rare deadlock in Ireland if repeated at parliamentary elections due in early 2016.
"To say we are in political crisis would be an exaggeration, but the poll marks a low point for party politics," Ipsos MRBI managing director Damian Loscher said.
"Remarkably, no one party achieves more than 22 per cent in the poll, another first in more than 30 years of polling. Under these conditions it would be next to impossible to form a stable government."
Loscher said a lack of trust in the established parties was the number one reason for voting "Independent and others", with over a third of prospective voters citing it as their motive.
The poll showed Kenny's junior coalition partners Labour fell three points to 6 per cent, reversing a mild bounce following the election of a new leader in July.
Such an outcome would mean it would be unable to win a single seat at the next election, according to Adrian Kavanagh, a politics lecturer at National University Ireland Maynooth who conducts constituency level analysis on each opinion poll.
Fine Gael would win just 34 seats, Kavanagh said, less than half the number it secured at the 2011 election when it and Labour swept to power with a record combined 113 seats in the 166-seat chamber.
Kenny's satisfaction rating also tumbled, down seven points to 19 per cent to make him the least popular party leader. While one member of parliament, asked if there might be a challenge to his leadership, said there was no way he could be blamed for the slump, another was not so sure.
"I couldn't say I know the answer to that question. The strategists, senior members of the party and the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) need to look seriously at the poll numbers and take the appropriate action," Sean Conlan told Newstalk radio.