Belfast Telegraph

Republic of Ireland going to the polls after budget deal

Voters in the Republic look set for a general election on Friday February 25 after the minority Government and main Opposition parties struck a deal to put Budget 2011 into law.

After more than an hour of talks, Finance Minister Brian Lenihan revealed all parliamentary business would be cleared for the week to fast-track the Finance Bill.

"I think it's a good day's work. I think it's important for the country that we are seen to unite," he said yesterday.

The Dail (parliament) will review the legislation for three days in a guillotine style debate from today before it goes to the Seanad (upper house) where further amendments can be made.

Mr Lenihan warned that the Government - left in a minority after the Greens on Sunday withdrew support - will face a motion of no confidence if the bill is not signed into law by next Tuesday.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen is expected to dissolve the Dail any time between Saturday and Tuesday with a general election to be held within 18-25 days, excluding Sundays and holidays.

The main Opposition parties, Fine Gael, Labour and the Greens, had heaped pressure on the Taoiseach and Mr Lenihan to set down a speedy timetable or face the prospect of being voted out of power.

But Sinn Fein refused to back the plan.

Spokesman Pearse Doherty claimed his party was asked to leave round table talks in the Department of Finance only to refuse and sit in silence after lashing out at the government-opposition consensus.

"What is happening in the Department of Finance is nothing short of disgusting," Mr Doherty said.

"It is the consensus of cuts all over again where the Labour Party and Fine Gael and the Green Party are supporting the Government to introduce the Finance Bill by Saturday."

Green TD Eamon Ryan said it was time for national politics, not party politics.

"And I'm really pleased to see it happen. We started this initiative at the weekend and I think all the parties responded very well," Mr Ryan said.

"And I hope it helps restore a bit of confidence in the country and in the political system."

New reforms on the tax status of couples in civil partnerships, championed by the Greens, have been abandoned in order to fast-track the Finance Bill.

Mr Lenihan said all parties were agreed that should be dealt with later in the year and other amendments can be taken in the Seanad.

Michael Noonan, Fine Gael finance spokesman, said the Taoiseach could dissolve the Dail as soon as Sunday or Monday.

"But he may want to go into the Dail on Tuesday and have a valedictory speech, I can't predict, but it's some time between that time frame," Mr Noonan said.

"While everybody was reasonable, it was obvious the alternative to an agreement would be a vote of no confidence, which the Government would lose."

Labour's Joan Burton said her party's no confidence motion had been deferred until next week.

She said she believed the election will be held on Friday, February 25.

"We had a good afternoon's work," she said.

"Our understanding from the Green Party delegation who were at the talks is that they will support that vote of no confidence should it arise but I feel myself it's unlikely."

Ireland has been embroiled in political chaos over the past fortnight.

The unprecedented turmoil began with allegations over the Taoiseach's golf and social outings with former Anglo-Irish Bank officials.

Accusations and innuendo quickly turned into a leadership heave, which Mr Cowen survived, only for six ministers to resign and his attempted Cabinet reshuffle ended in tatters.

Mr Cowen stepped down as leader of the ruling Fianna Fail party on Saturday afternoon but insisted he would remain Taoiseach until an election.

His departure was followed on Sunday by the Greens from government.

Four senior Fianna Fail figures will fight it out this week to lead the party into the election - Mr Lenihan, former foreign affairs minister Micheal Martin, who led the failed leadership heave, Social Protection and Defence Minister Eamon O Cuiv and Tourism and Enterprise Minister Mary Hanafin.

Belfast Telegraph

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