FINE Gael will begin its election campaign this evening as it believes the Government is only months from falling.
Sources have told the Herald that the opposition party's hierarchy are convinced that an election will take place by April -- at the very latest.
Party leader Enda Kenny is to warn his TDs and senators that they must be on an "election foot" from now on.
Fine Gael's parliamentary party meet in Waterford tonight for their annual think-in amid underlying tensions steaming from the leadership challenge.
But Mr Kenny is to attempt to move on from the pre-summer upheaval.
"We're on an election foot. We need to be ready at any stage now. There are all sorts of rumbles of instability around Leinster House and the by-elections have to come," a source told the Herald.
"If the Government concedes to having the by-elections then most people believe that'll be the date for a General Election."
Failed rebel Richard Bruton is to be given centre stage for one section of the meeting when he will present a policy document on public sector reform.
However, the anti-Kenny element within Fine Gael are expected to remain quiet over the two days of thinking at Faithlegg House in Waterford and will instead focus their ire on Fianna Fail.
The Herald has learned that party strategist Frank Flannery and TD Phil Hogan have been chairing meetings of a low-key election steering group over the summer months to prepare an election war book.
Their basic tactical and strategic aspects will be outlined to the party today and tomorrow.
Plans for an election headquarters, the leader's tour and blocks of the manifesto are also being finalised.
"The meeting will focus on the fact that we realise the Government is weak and we could be looking at a pre-Christmas election," said the source.
"If not that, then March or April is a very strong prospect. Our principle focus after today will be election preparation."
Pointing to the prospect of three by-elections, they added: "You wouldn't know what the independents that support the Government will do at that stage.
"They may try to distance themselves early on because if the three by-elections are held the Government majority will become untenable."