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General Election

So the general election is set for March 25: Are we sure about that?

Labour wanted the country to go straight to the polls last November, the Greens wanted it scheduled for January – the only definite statement made about the timing of the election so far is that there will be one.

WHAT A DIFFERENCE a day makes… or a month… or a year. With Green Party leader John Gormley telling Morning Ireland yesterday that March 25 would be a “reasonable” date for the general election, it seems late March is pegged for the country going to the polls.

He said it would take that time for certain Bills the Greens want enacted to be pushed through – that includes the Climate Change Response Bill, the Environment Bill and the bill covering the Dublin Mayoralty. The Sunday Times threw open the floor for the end of March date this past weekend, with the scenario that those Government incumbents not seeking re-election would carry out the long-haul trips for St Patrick’s Day, which of course would fall slapbang in the heady last days of campaigning.

Late last year, the party was gesturing towards a January election – and since then, the ETA for the general election has been pinned anywhere from February to May. So who are we to believe?

November 10: Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore repeats his assertion that the mood around Dail Eireann reminded him of the “last days of the Roman Empire”, a statement he previously made in April to Hot Press magazine. He calls for an immediate general election.

November 22: Sinn Fein and Fine Gael add their voices to the call for an immediate general election. It comes on foot of the Greens’ announcement that they would be standing down and seeking a January election.

Interestingly, that same day independent TDs Michael Lowry also gave credence to the notion that an immediate election would have to be called when they told RTE’s News at One that it was “highly unlikely” (Lowry) and “very unlikely” (Healy Rae) that they would support the December Budget. That, as we now know, did not happen.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen, responding to his partners in government, said he would seek a dissolution of the Dail after the Budget had been fully passed. He said the Greens were willing to support the work of the Government in the coming “weeks and months“.

December 9: The Irish Times reported that the likely date of the general election had been pushed back to March or “even later” following a row between the Coalition parties on the morning of the Budget. According to the Times, Transport Minister Noel Dempsey (who has since announced he won’t run in the next election) “was particularly vocal in telling the Greens that they could forget about an early new year election if they wanted their legislation passed by the Dail”.

December 12: Minister for Community Affairs Pat Carey said that as “as soon as all the legislation which is flowing from the Budget is enacted in both Houses, the Taoiseach Brian Cowen will seek to advice the President to dissolve the Dail.” He then hazarded a guess that it would be February at the earliest.

December 13: John Gormley was still sticking to a January date. While touring the wetlands of Co Monaghan, he told TV3 he still wanted to stick to the schedule that they would be “in a position to fix a date for the second half of January“. This time though, he softened his call with a consideration: “It obviously depends on the passage of the Finance Bill through the houses of the Oireachtas”.

December 19: A discussion on on election predictions produced one resounding positive from a user called Oasis Dublin: “I predict the election will happen.” A user called GSF plumped for Jackie Healy Rae as Taoiseach and Michael Lowry as Minister for Finance.

December 23: The publication of the Climate Change Response Bill on this date meant that it would not pass through the Oireachtas until late January at the earliest. This definitely pushed the Greens’ original January election date at least back a month. The Greens also took this day to wish people a peaceful Christmas, and a happy New Year after what they described as their own “annus horribilis”.

January 4, 2011: John Gormley won’t deny March 25 is out of the question for a general election. Enterprise Minister Batt O’Keeffe said: “I heard John Gormley mention, and I’m not demurring… the 25th of March this morning. Why would I disagree with my colleague in government?”

Why indeed? The conclusion now is that the general election will be a post-Paddy’s Day affair. As Gormley concluded the Finance Bill should be published on January 20, and the enactment of the legislation takes up to six weeks to go through. After that, referring back to Brian Cowen’s statement on November 22, Gormley said the actual calling will be “a matter, of course, for the Taoiseach”.

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