Coalition parties split over 'implied deal' on January election date
The Coalition parties are at odds over an alleged agreement that would see both Fine Gael and the Labour Party hold their annual conferences before the General Election.
Tánaiste Joan Burton's strategists believe they have an "implicit agreement" that if Fine Gael's Ard Fheis goes ahead before the election, then the Taoiseach will wait until after the Labour equivalent on January 30 to dissolve the Dáil.
One minister said Taoiseach Enda Kenny "wouldn't dare" to pull the plug in the days after the Fine Gael Ard Fheis on January 22 and 23.
However, Fine Gael sources said last night that no such agreement was in place.
"That's not locked down," said the source, who added they would never agree to such a deal since the election date is the Taoiseach's decision alone.
Both parties say Friday, February 26, is now the most likely polling day - but the split has emerged over when Mr Kenny will officially set the date.
Sinn Féin has already cancelled their conference, which was originally scheduled for February 6, amid mounting speculation around the election date.
Once the election is called RTÉ must ensure all parities get equal coverage time, meaning any party that holds their meeting after Mr Kenny sets the official date will lose out on valuable TV time.
Mr Kenny and Ms Burton already clashed last October when it emerged that Mr Kenny was considering a November election despite Labour's poor position in opinion polls.
Ms Burton won that round with the Taoiseach forced to publicly clarify that the vote would be in "early spring".
The Irish Independent understands that the two party leaders have not discussed the new date but talks have taken place at adviser level.
Plans are progressing at pace for Fine Gael's annual conference which will take place in Citywest.
Sources say that tens of thousands of euro have been spent on the function that will be attended by members from all over the country.
It is due to take place exactly a week before the Labour Party gathering in Mullingar, Co Westmeath.
Labour strategists said there had been "no demands" made of Fine Gael in relation to the date but there was "an implicit agreement that if one conference happens, both will happen".
They added that it was "broadly expected that both conferences will go ahead".
However, Fine Gael sources said: "They would say that, wouldn't they? But it's based on the premise that there is a date set. There is no agreement."
Many TDs and senators believe Mr Kenny will dissolve the Dáil before it is due to return from its Christmas holidays in mid-January.
However, sources close to the Taoiseach have dismissed this idea, saying late February is now almost certain.
"In the first week of February he'll be 23 days away from the 26th, which incidentally is the same day as the last election.
"He might go another week or so but I think he's keen to go. That date would also allow for the Banking Inquiry done," said one well-placed source.
Another added: "There are a number of strategic announcements in the New Year and updates on the Action Plan for Jobs.
"At the end of January people will see the affect of the budget cuts to USC. February 26 is the second payday for a lot of people so that would play well.
"And even though the Dáil would be sitting, much of the focus would be on the Banking Inquiry which would give backbenchers a chance to remind people of how Fianna Fáil destroyed the economy."