Ahern bounces back from scandal amid rumours of an early election

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Ireland's Prime Minister Bertie Ahern has once again demonstrated his remarkable powers of political recovery with a strong showing in a Dublin opinion poll.

Though beset in September by alleged financial scandals, he has put such troubles behind him and pushed up both his party's popularity and his own ratings.

His Fianna Fail party is in fact doing so well that there is speculation that Mr Ahern may go to the polls early. A general election is due next year.

The latest Irish Times poll puts Fianna Fail up 1 per cent to 40 per cent, its best showing since the last election. Mr Ahern's satisfaction rating, at 59 per cent, is way ahead of other party leaders.

But in September he was at the centre of considerable political turbulence over his alleged acceptance of payments from business figures to pay legal fees, 13 years ago.

While Mr Ahern angrily and adamantly denied any impropriety, opposition leaders sharply questioned him in the Irish parliament. But the judgement of many voters seems to be that the matter should be laid to rest.

His potential rival, the Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny, also saw his party rise by 1 per cent. Smaller parties found little cause for celebration in the new figures.

Sinn Fein, which until recent times seemed to be on a roll in the Republic of Ireland, fell 1 per cent to 7 per cent, a marked decline of the 12 per cent it scored two years ago.