Key Irish finance bill begins passage through Dail

The Dail (Irish parliament)
Image caption The bill is to begin its passage through the Dail (Irish parliament) on Tuesday

A key finance bill is to begin its passage through the Irish parliament later on Tuesday.

The bill - a condition of Ireland's international bail-out - will raise income taxes and close tax loopholes.

On Monday, a deal was reached between Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Labour and the Greens on a timetable for its passing.

It is due to pass all stages in the Dail by Thursday, before going to the Irish senate. A general election is then to be called by next Tuesday.

Prime Minister Brian Cowen's majority in parliament collapsed on Sunday when the Green party quit his coalition.

That capped a disastrous week for Mr Cowen, in which eight of his ministers resigned and he himself stepped down as leader of his party, Fianna Fail.

Finance Minister Brian Lenihan chaired Monday's talks with his counterparts from the Greens, Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Fein, after Labour threatened to bring a motion of no confidence against the government if the finance bill was not fast-tracked through the Dail.

The opposition were also calling for parliament to be dissolved by the end of the week, and a general election to be held in February, sooner than the 11 March date set by the government.

Image caption Brian Cowen stepped down as leader of Fianna Fail on Saturday

"I believe it will be extremely likely now that the next general election will be held on Friday, February 25," the opposition Labour's finance spokeswoman Joan Burton told reporters after the meeting.

The finance bill is the final legislative commitment that Ireland must pass as part of its 85bn euro EU/IMF bailout package.

Nominations for the Fianna Fail leadership closed on Monday and a vote is expected on Wednesday.

The frontrunner is former foreign minister Micheal Martin, with Brian Lenihan the bookmakers' second choice.

Social protection minister Eamon O Cuiv and Sports Minister Mary Hanafin are also running.

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