DUBLIN (AFP) – Ireland's political turmoil intensified Tuesday after Prime Minister Brian Cowen promised to call a general election in the New Year once parliament passes a budget at the centre of an international bailout.
It could take several weeks for the budgetary process to be completed and Cowen would then have to formally dissolve parliament and set an election date, meaning an election may not be held until February or March.
|The Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen said on Monday that he would call an early election in January, but resisted calls for his immediate resignation. AFP|
Two independent members of parliament on whom the government depends to pass legislation said they were likely to withhold their support, raising fears that the crucial budget might not be passed at all.
Cowen, who entered a coalition government with the Green Party in 2008, on Monday bowed to calls from its disgruntled junior partner to call an election in the wake of Ireland accepting a bailout worth up to 90 billion euros (122.5 billion dollars).
The prime minister said the debt-ridden country's priority must be to pass the six-billion-euro budget on December 7.
"It is my intention at the conclusion of the budgetary process, with the enactment of the necessary legislation in the New Year, to then seek the dissolution of parliament," the leader -- alternatively known as the Taoiseach -- told a news conference.
"It is imperative for this country that the budget is passed," he added.
Opposition parties were angered by Cowen's refusal to call an immediate vote.
The main opposition Fine Gael party said the people of Ireland had "absolutely no confidence" in the government and Sinn Fein party president Gerry Adams demanded immediate action.
"I totally disagree with the Taoiseach's assertion that the imperative is to get the budget passed," Adams said. "The budget should be suspended. The Taoiseach should call an election now."
The Guardian newspaper Tuesday doubted Cowen's chances of being leader at the election.
The British broadsheet quoted a senior source at Cowen's party, Fianna Fail, as saying "we cannot go into a general election with Brian as leader after the events of last week. His credibility is shattered."
European Union Economics Commissioner Olli Rehn insisted that political upheaval would not jeopardise the rescue deal which Ireland struck with the EU and the International Monetary Fund on Sunday.
"I don't see that it will threaten the EU-IMF programme or its negotiations," Rehn told journalists on the sidelines of a hearing before a committee of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
The elections "will take place... in January, and our negotiations will be concluded by the end of November," he added.
Ireland's request for financial assistance initiated a day of drama in Dublin on Monday.
Green Party leader John Gormley, whose party has six seats in parliament, called on Cowen to name a date for the country to go to the polls, saying the Irish people needed "political certainty."
Gormley said that in the meantime his party would support the government in getting the emergency budget through parliament.
In a sign of the anger about the bailout a hundred protesters forced their way through the gates of the parliament building before being pushed back by police.
Cowen's party faces a by-election on Thursday in the northern constituency of Donegal South-West which it is likely to lose.
Having dominated Irish politics since the 1930s, defeat for Fianna Fail in the general election would represent a significant moment in the country's history.
Ireland's request for aid was approved by EU officials who were desperate to quell fears that other heavily-indebted euro economies such as Portugal could be sucked into the crisis.
News of the bailout initially calmed fears about the single European currency, with the euro rising above 1.37 dollars before it fell back to 1.3571 dollars by 0130 GMT.
The EU has agreed in principle to use a 750-billion-euro fund, the European Financial Stability Facility, which was set up in May after a 110-billion-euro EU-IMF bailout of Greece.
Britain, not part of the 16-country eurozone, said it was in its "national interest" to consider a separate loan to Ireland of about seven billion pounds (11.2 billion dollars).
Ireland's public finances have been ravaged by a property market meltdown and the global recession. Domestic banking sector rescues have severely restricted the country's room for manoeuvre.