FINE Gael and Labour were split last night over a motion of no confidence in the Government.
Labour leader Eamon Gilmore sought to pile pressure on Taoiseach Brian Cowen by tabling the motion, but Fine Gael dismissed it as an "ill-advised and badly timed" move which would only serve to unite a divided Fianna Fail.
The Government's Chief Whip John Curran said Labour could use its private members' time in two weeks for the motion, adding that the Government would be confident of defeating it.
He said the move was "just another meaningless political stunt" and represented "shallow posturing" by Mr Gilmore.
A spokesman for Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said it would galvanise the Green Party and independents Michael Lowry and Jackie Healy-Rae in support of Fianna Fail.
Fine Gael believes that the Fianna Fail leadership saga should be allowed play itself out because this would weaken and bring down the Government. It says the Labour motion will only delay the election.
Mr Gilmore, who did not speak to Mr Kenny prior to his announcement, defended the decision to table a motion of no confidence in the Government rather than in Mr Cowen personally, saying the issue "is not about individuals at all".
Coalition sources also claimed that they were relieved the motion focussed on the Government rather than Mr Cowen.
Mr Gilmore said he told the Government before Christmas that he would put down a no-confidence motion in January if there was no clear timetable for the passing of the Finance Bill, which gives legal effect to the Budget.
He also said Fianna Fail TDs and ministers had spent the last few days talking about the best interests of their party.
"The best interests of the party -- any party -- is not what this is about. There are people all over this country who have lost their jobs."
The last confidence motion in Mr Cowen was debated last June during the Fine Gael heave. Enda Kenny tabled the motion just days before his own party began a heave against him and Labour responded to criticism by dragging up that episode last night.
"Ill advised could be defined as putting down a motion of no confidence in the Government and your own leader in the same week," a senior Labour source said.