The threat to Enda Kenny's leadership of Fine Gael receded this weekend with the publication of a new opinion poll showing Fine Gael in first position, comfortably ahead of Labour and Fianna Fáil.
However, senior party figures revealed that his continued position at the helm is dependent on poll results over the coming months – the next opinion poll is expected on Friday.
Last Thursday's TV3 poll which saw Labour surging ahead with a 35% rating prompted serious disquiet within the party just three months after Richard Bruton's failed bid for the top job.
Today's Red C/Sunday Business Post poll puts Fine Gael at 31% ahead of both Fianna Fáil (24%) and Labour (23%) and gives Kenny a "get out of jail card" for now.
However, one senior source predicted that if the government's budget goes through, the Christmas period could be critical for the Fine Gael leader.
Thursday's poll sent shockwaves through Fine Gael and prompted serious mutterings about Kenny's future, with TDs suggesting privately that, if this was reflected in future polls, he would be forced to step aside. It not alone showed FG adrift of Labour, but also revealed that Kenny's ratings were barely above those of Taoiseach Brian Cowen.
Kenny's opponents who spoke to the Sunday Tribune last night, accepted that the new poll removes any immediate threat. "He's safe at that level," was the verdict of one opponent. "It does ease the pressure on him. There's no point in saying otherwise," said another TD.
"If the government gets the budget through then we could be looking at another eight months at least until a general election," one influential TD said, suggesting that this timescale would allow room for a leadership move. "January is a very dangerous month for leaders. Look what happened to John Bruton [who was ousted in January 2001 after a failed heave just months earlier]. But that is the last time Enda can be taken out. If he's ahead of Labour and above 30% at that point, he's safe," he added.
Another TD who opposed Kenny last June agreed, and said polls over the next two months would be crucial. He noted that "the trend is still down" as the party was two points less than in the last Red C poll. He claimed that was being reflected in what TDs heard on the doorsteps.
Today's poll will be something of a disappointment for Labour as the party is down four points and a significant 12 points lower than its position in the TV3 poll. However, it still puts Labour at more than twice the level of support it received in the last general election, leaving it on course to win in the region of 40 seats.
There will be some relief in Fianna Fáil that it is unchanged at 24% despite the fall-out from Cowen's Morning Ireland interview. This figure is around the vote secured in last year's local elections and suggests that its support has bottomed out after plummeting from its 41% tally in the last general election.
Sinn Féin will be delighted at its 10% rating which compares to just 4% in the TV3 poll.