No election until spring -- Cowen
Taoiseach says complex Budget process will delay poll
Taoiseach Brian Cowen signalled yesterday that the General Election would not be held until February or March because of the complex process of passing all elements of the Budget.
But the European Commission warned it was crucial that Ireland pass a budget "sooner rather than later".
The warning from the EU resulted in the opposition parties moderating their demands for an immediate election.
Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny called on Mr Cowen to bring the Budget forward and speed up its passage through the Dail.
But Mr Kenny and Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore stopped well short of promising to vote for it.
European Commissioner Olli Rehn said it was essential Ireland pass the Budget "in the timeline foreseen and certainly sooner rather than later".
"Every day that is lost increases uncertainty and increases the economic and social cost. So please let's adopt the Budget, let's get it out of the way and let's move on," he said.
Mr Cowen also encouraged the opposition leaders to request meetings with the IMF and EU officials currently in Dublin negotiating the terms of Ireland's financial rescue package.
Despite the Green Party's demand for a general election by the end of January, Mr Cowen indicated polling day wouldn't be until February or March.
After threatening to pull the plug if the election was not called in January, the Greens said polling day would be a matter for discussion.
"This is a matter for discussion. There is a facility to expedite it. It's reasonable to say a week or a fortnight's delay won't break matters," a spokesman said.
Mr Cowen insisted he was not attempting to "cling to office" but trying to work in the best interests of the country.
The Taoiseach, whose voting majority has narrowed to just three, failed to call on opposition parties to support the December 7 Budget or abstain.
Instead, Mr Cowen talked about the need for the house to recognise the "national issue".
"It is a matter of personal responsibility for all of us to decide if the country is to put through the Budget or not," he said. "This is a matter of national importance to us all, for the country, for our future and for the future of everyone."
Mr Kenny urged the Taoiseach to fast-track the Budget to next week but this was rejected on the basis the Government needed to wait for the November Exchequer returns.
Labour is not ruling out tabling of a motion of no confidence in Mr Cowen or the Government, but Fine Gael sources said the idea is off the table -- as it would tend to strengthen rather than weaken the Taoiseach's position.
Sinn Fein did table a confidence motion, but do not have the numbers to push it to a vote.