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FILE PHOTO: Leo Varadkar wins the Fine Gael parliamentary elections to replace Prime Minister of Ireland (Taoiseach) Enda Kenny as leader of the party in Dublin, Ireland June 2, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne/File Photo(reuters_tickers)
DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland's ruling Fine Gael party has opened up an eight-point lead over its nearest rival, an opinion poll showed on Sunday, suggesting the minority government was seeing a bounce under new prime minister Leo Varadkar.
Varadkar, the 38-year-old son of an Indian immigrant and the first gay premier of the once-staunchly Catholic country, succeeded Enda Kenny in May as members of his centre-right Fine Gael hoped a young, straight-talking leader would propel the party ahead of main rival Fianna Fail.
Fine Gael secured the support of 33 percent of respondents to the Sunday Times/Behaviour & Attitudes poll, up from 29 percent in July, while the opposition Fianna Fail fell five points to 25 percent.
"All of this increase has come from those who were undecided about the Taoiseach (prime minister) in the previous poll," said Behaviour & Attitudes executive chairman Ian McShane.
In opinion polls taken before the summer recess, Fine Gael had mostly held only a marginal lead over Fianna Fail.
Varadkar's minority government relies on the backing of fellow centre-right Fianna Fail in key votes, under a deal due to last under October 2018, although many analysts expect an election to be called before the agreement concludes.
Fine Gael won 25.5 percent of the vote at last year's election, to Fianna Fail's 24.3 percent, leaving both well short of the support needed to form a coalition government.
Support for Ireland's third largest party Sinn Fein rose one point to 19 percent in the poll. Both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail say they will not consider forming a coalition government with left-wing Sinn Fein after the next election.
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Susan Fenton)