The Government is set for a High Court showdown with Sinn Fein over a stalled by-election in Donegal, it has emerged.
A judge ordered the case could go ahead in October in a row over the delay in filling Pat 'The Cope' Gallagher's vacant Dail seat.
The former Fianna Fail junior minister's election to the European Parliament last June has left the Donegal South West constituency under-represented for more than a year.
Sinn Fein Senator Pearse Doherty - who is hoping to take the seat - mounted a legal challenge in an attempt to force the Government to "move the writ" for a by-election. High Court President Justice Nicholas Kearns said the hearing could go ahead on October 18 if a judge was available on that day.
Mr Doherty, who failed to get elected to the Dail in 2002 and 2007, said the Government's decision to fight the case has delayed the by-election even further.
Outside the High Court, he said: "If the Government had any sense of decency it would have used the opportunity today to set a date for an election rather than a court case. They are attempting to defend the indefensible and the fact that they have come to the High Court to defend this is an indictment on their record and a testament of their fear of facing the electorate."
Mr Doherty accused the Government of failing the people of Donegal South West - also Tanaiste Mary Coughlan's constituency - while leaving them under-represented at a time of high unemployment and hospital cutbacks. Lawyers for the senator are expected to argue during the case that the Constitution caps a TD's representation to 30,000 people.
With one seat vacant in the constituency, Ms Coughlan and Fine Gael's Dinny McGinley presently represent more than 70,000 constituents each, Mr Doherty claims. "This whole episode highlights the urgent need for a reform of the system of dealing with Dail vacancies as they arise," he said.
Two other seats remain empty in the Dail after ex-Fine Gael Dublin South TD George Lee resigned in February and former Fianna Fail minister Martin Cullen stepped down as Waterford TD in March.
A Government spokesman declined to comment.