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Ireland's Fianna Fail stages stunning comeback - poll

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

* Fianna Fail has become most popular party - poll

* It lost power over handling of financial crisis

DUBLIN, Feb 8 (Reuters) - Ireland's main opposition party Fianna Fail has become the most popular party in the country, an opinion poll showed on Friday, less than two years after being booted from power for their handling of an unprecedented financial crisis.

The centre-right party inched a percentage point ahead of Prime Minister Enda Kenny's Fine Gael, although the poll was carried out before the government struck a vital deal on Thursday to ease the country's debt burden.

Support for Fianna Fail, which lost a record 58 of their 78 seats in the last election of February 2011, has risen by five percentage points to a five-year high of 26 percent, the Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll showed.

Its fellow centre-right party Fine Gael, which has had to continue a relentless austerity drive as part of the EU/IMF bailout signed under the Fianna Fail government, has seen its support fall to 25 percent in the survey, from 31 percent when Ipsos last polled voters in October.

Kenny's centre-left junior coalition partners Labour, under particular pressure for the tough tax hikes and spending cuts introduced, has fallen two points to 10 percent. The opposition Sinn Fein party has also dropped two points to 18 percent.

The swing in support represents a remarkable recovery for Fianna Fail which has dominated Irish politics since the country's independence more than 90 years ago.

Its leaders negotiated independence from Britain and participated in peace talks in Northern Ireland as Ireland's main party.

The party had won a seat in every constituency at each election since first taking power in 1937 until the mauling of 2011 when it was left with a presence in just 18 of Ireland's 43 constituencies.

Of the 47 members of Ireland's 166-strong lower-house elected in the capital Dublin, none represent Fianna Fail.

Leader Micheal Martin, a senior minister in the government widely blamed for a financial crisis that led to Ireland's humiliating bailout in November 2010, now has the same satisfaction rating as Kenny, the poll showed.

Satisfaction with the government, which may see its rating improve thanks to the debt deal struck this week with the European Central Bank, has dropped to its lowest level since it took office.

The poll was carried out among a sample of 1,000 voters on Monday and Tuesday. The next general election is due in three years' time.

(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Pravin Char)

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/thomson-reuters/130208/irelands-fianna-fail-stages-stunning-comeback-poll