Sinn Féin is currently the most popular political party, according to a new poll which also shows Government gains and a dramatic drop in support for Independents.

The Sunday Independent/Millward Brown poll is the first this year.

When the Don't Knows are excluded the results show Sinn Féin is the biggest party with 26%, up 5%.

Fine Gael is on 25%, up 3%; Labour is up 1% to 6%; and Fianna Fáil is also up 1% to 19%.

But Independents and smaller parties are down 10% to 24% since the last comparable poll in December.

More than 1,000 people were surveyed between 29 January and 9 February.

The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3%.

But the drop of 10 percentage points for Independents and smaller parties does suggest a shift in the public mood.

The last big drop in support for this grouping was back in September 2013 when they fell 5% from the poll the previous month.

Independents and smaller parties enjoyed a surge in support in the Sunday Independent/Millward Brown December poll following the major protests against water charges.

Back then they recorded a popular support level of 34%.

But with the focus of political debate now shifting towards the general election - even though the Government says it will not happen until next year - the poll may suggest that the public might be beginning to weigh up the issue of stability in any future government.