Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen has announced he is seeking the dissolution of parliament, paving the way for national elections at the end of February, the first since the country was forced to accept a bailout.
The Irish are not amused about the austerity measures
Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen announced he is seeking the dissolution of parliament on Tuesday to allow a general election to take place on February 25.
Cowen told the Dail, or lower house of parliament, that he hoped the next parliament would meet on March 9. Cowen himself is not standing for re-election.
Cowen said throughout his 27 years in parliament, his "overriding concern" had been for the good of the Irish people.
He added his time as prime minister had been a period of great "trial and test", but the "common good was always at the forefront of his decisions."
Cowen has faced a series of political setbacks over his handling of the financial crisis, and resigned as party leader ten days ago.
Road to new elections
The three-and-a-half week election campaign is likely to focus on the nation's debt crisis.
Main opposition Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny welcomed the fact that "at long last the people of Ireland will have their say in a general election which is long overdue."
While paying tribute to Cowen's personal integrity, Kenny branded the government that he presided over as the worst in living memory.
Kenny said no-one who has been in government would be able to "dodge their responsibility for sending the country into the arms of the IMF [International Monetary Fund]."
Brian Cowen said he will not seek re-election
Kenny is widely tipped to become the next prime minister, possibly in a Fine Gael-Labour coalition. Fine Gael's support is currently at 33 percent, Labour is at 21 percent.
The most recent poll for the Sunday Business Post financial newspaper shows the once-dominant Fianna Fail now has just 16 percent support - up two points since it changed its leader from Cowen to Micheal Martin last week.
Ireland was forced to accept an 85 billion euro ($113 billion) bailout from the European Union and the IMF in November last year.
As part of the EU-IMF deal, Cowen was forced to introduce an austerity budget for Ireland, with 6 billion euros' worth of cutbacks and tax hikes.
Author: Joanna Impey (AFP, dpa)
Editor: Andreas Illmer