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Finance Bill timetable points to an election in late March

THE General Election is likely to take place in the latter part of March, judging by Finance Minister Brian Lenihan's timetable.

The law needed to bring in the changes announced in Budget 2011 won't be passed until the end of February, meaning that the election won't be called until after that.

Fine Gael's spokesman on finance, Michael Noonan, said the Department of Finance's schedule for passing the Bill ran up to February 26.

"You could barely get in before St Patrick's Day on a 21-day election, so we're likely to be on the 24th or 25th of March," he said.

That timeline would mean Taoiseach Brian Cowen would travel to the US for St Patrick's Day and ministers would head across the world.

But Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore said: "I will allow two or three weeks for the passage of the Finance Bill and the election should be called after that. If the Government does not comply, we will table a vote of no confidence to force the election."

The Labour leader was in Drogheda and Navan yesterday to boost the campaigns of Gerard Nash in Louth and Jenny McHugh in Meath West.

Meanwhile, no surprise candidate emerged last night to replace Bertie Ahern on the Fianna Fail line-up in Dublin Central. Nominations closed yesterday, with Cyprian Brady TD and Cllr Mary Fitzpatrick the only names put forward.

Mr Ahern announced his retirement last week. The selection convention will be held in the coming weeks. The party is expected to run two candidates.

Mr Brady and Ms Fitzpatrick were Mr Ahern's running mates in the 2007 general election. On that occasion, the then taoiseach told his supporters to give their number-two votes to Mr Brady.

Despite getting less than 1,000 first preferences, Mr Brady was elected with the assistance of Mr Ahern's substantial surplus.

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