Just over half of Irish people support a multi-billion euro EU/IMF rescue package but 56 percent believe the country has surrendered its sovereignty by accepting the assistance, a poll published on Saturday said.

Ireland was forced to resort to the IMF, the European Union and European Central Bank to negotiate an 85 billion euro ($113 billion) loan after a banking sector crisis drove the economy into the ground and sent ripples across the wider euro zone.

Irish taxpayers face years of spending cuts and tax hikes, as part of a four-year austerity drive designed to squeeze 15 billion euros from the worst deficit in Europe, beginning with 2011 budget's record package of 6 billion euros in adjustments.

When asked if they supported the bailout, 51 percent of Irish people said they welcomed it, 37 percent did not, and 12 percent did not know, an Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll showed.

Fifty-six percent of the 1,000 voters sampled said Dublin had surrendered its sovereignty by accepting the deal, while 33 percent said it had not and 11 percent had no opinion.

Brian Cowen, the most unpopular Irish prime minister in recent history, is expected to lose a national election early next year, over his handling of the crisis.

Opinion polls indicate the opposition center-right Fine Gael party will form a coalition government with the center-left Labor after the election, to be held possibly in February or March.

Fine Gael called on Cowen on Saturday to dissolve parliament by the end of January for an election to take place.


Parliament approved the bailout on Wednesday in the face of opposition threats to renegotiate the deal, but given Ireland's dependence on the package to shore up its banks and finance its deficit, and having signed up to its tough fiscal targets, the room for maneuver may be limited.

Saturday's poll showed voters who backed Cowen's Fianna Fail party were the most supportive of the bailout and a majority of them did not believe that Dublin had given up its sovereignty.

Fine Gael and Labour voters also supported the bailout, but said sovereignty had been surrendered, the Irish Times said.

Expressing disgruntlement with the severe austerity measures they will face, 68 percent of voters said they thought the December 7 budget was unfair, against 27 percent who thought it was fair.

A new Sunday Business Post/Red C tracking poll put support for Fianna Fail at just 17 percent, a record low, with Fine Gael in the lead on 34 percent, putting party leader Enda Kenny on course to be the next prime minister. Labor's support stood at 24 percent.

Fianna Fail voters said they would be more likely to vote for the party under Finance Minister Brian Lenihan. Lenihan and Foreign Minister Micheal Martin are being touted as possible new party leaders, but Cowen has said he will lead Fianna Fail into the vote.

The Irish Times said the latest poll was held on Monday and Tuesday, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent. The Sunday Business Post/Red C poll was conducted among 1,000 voters on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

(Reporting by Yara Bayoumy: Editing by Alison Williams)