GOVERNMENT ministers will hold their last cabinet meeting next Tuesday, before the Taoiseach triggers an election for the end of February.
The general election is "likely to be before the end of February", after it was originally set for March 11, a Government spokesman conceded last night.
Setting the election date is the prerogative of Mr Cowen, and won't be officially announced until he dissolves the 30th Dail.
The final Dail sitting and cabinet meeting are scheduled to take place next Tuesday -- prompting speculation that Mr Cowen will then travel to Aras an Uachtarain.
Opposition parties expect the Dail to be dissolved next Tuesday with a likely election day on Friday, February 25 or earlier.
The earlier election date means there is now less confusion about who will travel to the White House to exchange the traditional bowl of St Patrick's Day shamrocks with American President Barack Obama.
An invitation has not yet been issued by the White House, and does not normally arrive until mid to late February, a Government spokesman said.
But if the opinion polls are repeated on election day, it is now highly likely that Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny will represent the Government in the White House as Taoiseach.
A Department of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman said the nature of the delegation attending St Patrick's Day events worldwide had yet to be determined.
The Government does not normally sign off on where ministers are travelling until later in February or early March.
Irish embassies start putting arrangements in place in October and November every year, in anticipation of a minister visiting their country.
If the election is held by the end of February, there will be pressure on the potential government parties to negotiate a Programme for Government and appoint a cabinet of ministers before March 17.