DUBLIN Support for Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny's Fine Gael party held steady in an opinion poll on Monday but his coalition government remained some way short of the support needed to stay in office at Friday's election.
Kenny's Fine Gael, which recovered from a recent slide in two weekend surveys, remained unchanged at 28 percent in the Irish Times/MRBI poll, below the level they went into the campaign at and their 36 percent 2011 election mark.
Kenny is campaigning to return to power with junior partner Labour but it fell for the third poll in four. It now has just six percent voter support, likely leaving the coalition as much as 10 percentage points away from forming a majority.
On that level they would also struggle to cobble together a majority with independents or smaller parties, meaning an unprecedented coalition between Fine Gael and its arch rival Fianna Fail may be the only hope of a stable government.
Fianna Fail, which has swapped power with Fine Gael since the foundation of the state almost a century ago, rose two points to 23 percent, benefiting from a further fall in support for left-wing Sinn Fein which fell four points to 15 percent.
If no party is able to form a coalition after the election, that may spell a period of political instability similar to the current deadlock in Spain or lead to fresh elections.
"Faced by the prospect of a hung Dail (parliament) or a second election, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail would come under intense pressure to put aside traditional animosities and form a grand alliance," the Irish Times said in an editorial on Monday.
"For both parties, such an arrangement would represent a poisoned chalice, particularly because of the opportunity Sinn Fein would gain in becoming the main opposition voice."
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Michael Perry)