DUBLIN Support for Ireland's ruling coalition fell in two opinion polls published on Saturday, widening the margin the member parties need to make up if they are to return to government after elections expected next month.
While Prime Minister Enda Kenny's Fine Gael held steady at 31 percent in a poll in the Sunday Times newspaper, the centre-right party fell two points to 30 percent in the Sunday Business Post/Red C poll, its first drop in the series since July.
Its junior partner Labour was unchanged on 9 percent in that poll but in the Sunday Times/Behaviour & Attitudes survey, the party which has struggled to gain credit for the rebound in Ireland's economy fell two points to just 6 percent.
Kenny, who has until early April to go to the electorate but is expected to call the poll for late February, is seeking re-election with Labour but the parties would be several percent shy of a majority if either poll was borne out.
Centre-right Fianna Fail benefited from the government's fall in support, going level with left-wing challenger Sinn Fein on 19 percent in one poll and ahead of its rival opposition party on 20 percent in the other.
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin reiterated on Saturday that his party would not go into coalition with Fine Gael or Sinn Fein, the former political wing of the Irish Republic Army (IRA) whom he likened this week to a "mafia organisation".
With no obvious alternative, if the government parties fall short of a majority, Ireland may face the relative instability of a minority government, a larger coalition including a number of independent deputies or an election re-run.
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Mark Potter)