Irish election likely late February after deal

Irish PM was earlier forced into calling a general election for March 11.

Updated: Jan 25, 2011, 10:24 AM IST

Dublin: Ireland looked set to bring elections forward to late February after its crumbling government struck a deal with opposition parties to fast-track legislation needed for an EU-IMF bailout.

Speaking after crunch talks with the opposition on Monday, Finance Minister Brian Lenihan said that a timetable had been agreed to push through the vital finance bill by Saturday.

Parliament will be dissolved after the bill passes and a general election called, which Lenihan said he expected late next month.

The opposition Labour party said the poll would be held on February 25, but the finance minister refused to confirm this.

"Election date will be February 25th, I understand," said Labour finance spokeswoman Joan Burton after the talks, in a message on microblogging site Twitter.

"Dail (lower house of Parliament) dissolved either this weekend or Tuesday."

Prime Minister Brian Cowen was last week forced into calling a general election for March 11 after a botched cabinet reshuffle.

But the opposition demanded polls even sooner following a weekend of political turmoil which saw the Green party pull out of the coalition government and Cowen quit as head of his Fianna Fail party.

After being forced into taking an international bailout in November, Fianna Fail faces a drubbing at the polls, which would make it the first government to fall victim to the eurozone debt crisis.

Passing the finance bill before the election is seen as crucial, as it will help secure loans worth EUR 67 billion (USD 90 billion) from the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

Opposition parties had given Cowen an ultimatum to pass the bill and dissolve Parliament by the end of the week or face a confidence vote that could have brought down the government.

After reaching a deal on the timetable on Monday, Lenihan said the politicians had done "a good day`s work”.

Bureau Report