Peadar Tóibín’s Aontú have drawn level with the Labour Party on 4% in the latest Ireland Thinks opinion poll for the Mail on Sunday, which also shows that about 20-25% of Irish voters would not take a Covid vaccine.

More on the vaccine below, but first, here are the party figures:

The poll also finds Sinn Fein and Fine Gael entrenching their positions as Ireland’s two main parties, with Fianna Fáil remaining below 20% support, and firmly in third place.

There is bad news, too, for the third party in the governing coalition, with Green Party support falling equal to Labour and Aontú on 4%.

Analysis:

Fine Gael and Sinn Fein both have reasons to be delighted with this poll, and with the recent trends showing them as the two largest parties. The next election is likely to be, at some level, a national referendum on whether Sinn Fein should be allowed into Government. Fine Gael, as the largest party other than SF, and as the only party likely to rule out entering Government with them, is in a strong position to position itself as the only hope for voters who fear the prospect of Mary Lou McDonald as Taoiseach.

Sinn Fein, meanwhile, is in a position to campaign to lead the first left-led Government in the history of the Republic, and to use this fact to hoover up support from the smaller left wing parties.

This risks leaving Fianna Fáil as an irrelevance – prepared to go into coalition, as the second party, with either Fine Gael or Sinn Fein.

The opportunity that’s open to them, on the other hand, is to present themselves as a moderating force between two extremes – arguing that the numbers mean that neither FG nor SF can govern without them, and that a strong Fianna Fáil would temper the worst instincts of either.

The problem, of course, is that that argument involves implicitly conceding that FF cannot hope to lead a Government. Once a party accepts that “third wheel” role, it can be very hard to escape.

The lessons for the smaller parties are more severe. On the left, Labour and the Social Democrats hold almost ten per cent between them. Add in the four per cent for the Greens, and the soft left vote is about where it’s been in Ireland for the past several decades – somewhere between 10 and 15%. But where that vote used to be relatively united behind Labour, it is now hopelessly divided, and all three parties find themselves likely to be begging for scraps from Sinn Fein’s table.

The Green Party, in particular, is suffering badly in Government, and on these numbers, would likely lose more than half it’s seats if an election were held tomorrow, while neither Labour nor the Social Democrats can hope to achieve meaningful gains on these numbers.

For Aontú, the poll is a stunning success, even though their raw support remains roughly level with Labour and the Social Democrats. Four per cent represents a doubling of their support since the General Election, and would put them in position to win significant state funding of the party, securing it for the long term.

Aontú emerged at roughly the same time as a number of other small, dissident parties with a pro-life ethos. But it has thus far succeeded where they have conspicuously failed to make a breakthrough. Given that these parties tend to have some support amongst our readers, it’s worth venturing a few thoughts on why that might be.

For one thing, Aontú has operated much like a political party should. It has identified local candidates, built up their profile, and tried to identify them with bread and butter local issues. By contrast, some of the parties that emerged at about the same time have focused very narrowly on issues that are of concern only to their base of support – opposition to facemasks and lockdowns and immigration – while ignoring local issues, or the importance of embedding candidates in their communities.

For another thing, Aontú has been significantly more moderate in its tone, and more broad-based in the issues it seeks to address. Whereas other small parties tend to focus almost exclusively on one or two issues, Aontú has tried to build a wider footprint of views on matters of concern to the average voter.

All of this is rewarded with political support, whereas most of the other parties founded at about the same time still fail to register in the opinion polling.

The challenge, however, will be to turn 4% support into more than the one seat it holds at present. To do that, it will need two things: Candidates who can secure a respectable and competitive number of first preference votes, and an increased willingness from supporters of other parties to transfer second preferences to Aontú candidates.

It remains an uphill climb, but Tóibín and Aontú have already made it farther up the hill than many people might have expected.