Irish voters will go to the polls on Friday February 25, the Government confirmed today.
After weeks of speculation, Taoiseach Brian Cowen formally dissolved the Dail clearing the way for a widely expected general election at the end of the month.
Mr Cowen, who is retiring from politics, used his farewell speech to insist his time in office had been a time of great trial and test which he had used to fix past mistakes.
In a valedictory address to the Dail, Mr Cowen said he always had the good of the people in mind in every decision he took.
"But I do want to simply say that while the past two and a half years since I was elected Taoiseach have been a time of great trial and test, I believe we have worked hard to correct past failures and to secure the future recovery of our country," he said.
"I know some of the decisions my government had to take were not popular. But they had to be taken."
Mr Cowen appealed to people to remember his motivation in making political decisions as well as the context in which they were taken.
"I believe politics is about serving the interests of the people first and last," he said.
"That was my motivation starting out in public life and I stayed true to it right to the end.
"In every decision I took, as Taoiseach, I can honestly say the common good was my overriding concern, and loyalty to this country and its people informed every choice I made."
The election date was formally announced after Mr Cowen attended President Mary McAleese`s official residence, Aras an Uachtarain, to ask her to sign his request to dissolve the Dail.
Mr Cowen, who declared last night he was stepping down from politics, said the election would define Ireland's economic future and whether it moves on from, prolongs or succumbs to the economic crisis.
"The choice, in many ways, is that fundamental," he said.
Mr Cowen insisted the economy retained many strengths and urged his adversaries to "not talk Ireland down for short-term political gain".