Poll boost: Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny

MICHEÁL Martin has taken just four days to become the preferred choice for Taoiseach, according to a shock opinion poll published today.

According to the Red C/Sunday Business Post poll, 31% of voters plump for Martin – who became Fianna Fáil leader only last Tuesday ? as their best choice for Taoiseach. This compares to 26% for Eamon Gilmore, while Enda Kenny is at 19% and Gerry Adams is at 7%. Martin's personal ratings are a huge improvement on those of his predecessor Brian Cowen.

Martin's arrival as leader has not yet had a dramatic impact on Fianna Fáil's poll rating. The party is up two points to 16%. However, given the disastrous few weeks the party has endured with the collapse of the government following the botched cabinet reshuffle, there will be relief in Fianna Fáil at that result and the party leaders' ratings suggest Martin has given the party a moderate bounce. Fianna Fáil's 16% rating is confirmed in a separate Millward Brown/ Lansdowne Sunday Independent poll today.

Fine Gael, however, remains comfortably on course to lead the next government despite dropping two points in the Red C poll to 33%. It is well clear of Labour which remains unchanged at 21%. The Millward Brown/Lansdowne poll has the two parties at 34% and 24% respectively.

There may be some surprise in Sinn Féin that the party has dropped one point to 13% in Red C poll and stands at 10% in the Millward Brown/Lansdowne survey. But the party is still on course for its best general election since 1922. The poll ratings comes after a mixed week for the party.

There were some strong performances by party figures such as Pearse Doherty and Martin Ferris but a lacklustre interview given by Gerry Adams on RTE's Morning Ireland may have damaged Sinn Féin which has increasingly come under attack from the three main parties.

The Green Party's departure from government has failed to help its poll ratings as it has dropped two percentage points to just 2% in the Red C poll, and is at a miserable 1% with Millward Brown/Lansdowne. On these figures, the party would not hold onto any of its six seats.

The two polls confirm that independents will perform strongly in the general election, showing at 15% in both polls, an increase of three percentage points in the case of Red C.

The polls continue to point to a Fine Gael-Labour coalition, led by Enda Kenny, despite Kenny's rating in the choice for Taoiseach question in the Red C poll coming well under Fine Gael's party support.

But it is the finding that Micheál Martin is favoured choice of 31% of voters to be Taoiseach that will cause most surprise and backs up those in Fianna Fáil who argued for a change in leader during the recent confidence motion in Brian Cowen.

At 16%, Fianna Fáil is still on course to lose up to 50 seats but the strong personal rating for Martin suggests the party would have been considerably lower if there had not been a change of leadership. It also gives the party some hope that Martin can lift the party's support levels up to the 20%, which would ensure the party's status as the main opposition party.