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Ireland parties reach election deal
Elections likely to be held in late February following agreement to fast-track austerity legislation.
Last Modified: 24 Jan 2011 21:08 GMT
Lenihan told the media the deal would mean elections could be held in late February [Reuters]

Ireland's collapsing government has reached an agreement with opposition leaders to bring forward the date of a parliamentary election and fast-track a finance bill aimed at securing an international bailout.

Brian Lenihan, Ireland's finance minister who led the talks on Monday, said the agreement means parliament will be dissolved by February 1, and that the election will be held in late February.

The deal comes after a week of political crises for Brian Cowen, the Irish prime minster, including a botched cabinet reshuffle.

Cowen's party lost the support of the Green Party, a small but key coalition ally, over the weekend and Cowen himself resigned as leader of the Fianna Fail party.

He had already suffered a crushing defeat on Thursday when he tried to reshuffle his cabinet to promote Fianna Fail election candidates, but the Greens prevented him.

Niamh Lyons, the Irish Daily Mail political correspondent, told Al Jazeera that "in order to have any chance in gaining back a seat or two in the forthcoming general election, they [the Greens] believe they have to nail their colours to the mast on this one".

'Delaying tactic'

Crisis talks began on Monday with the opposition parties demanding the government hold Ireland's parliamentary election by February 25 at the latest, instead of Cowen's earlier chosen date of March 11, or face a confidence vote.

"As a minority government, Fianna Fail cannot dictate the order of business," Joan Burton, the spokeswoman for Ireland's Labour party, said earlier on national broadcaster RTE.

"The bottom line for us is that debate on the Finance Bill must be completed by Friday. This shambles of a government has to be brought to an end," Burton said.

"The delaying tactic is nothing to do with the devoting more time for the finance bill and all about giving more time for Fianna Fail and its leadership election process."

The austerity bill, to be passed ahead of the elections, will bring into effect planned tax hikes and spending cuts in the wake of the country's economic crisis.

The legislation is a condition of a $90bn bailout from the European Union and International Monetary Fund in November.

There is growing anger in Ireland that the one-time "Celtic Tiger" economy has needed to turn to the EU and IMF for financial rescue.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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