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Lenihan admits general election looms in McDaid fallout

A MINISTER has admitted a 2011 election looks on the cards as the Government is now propped up by two Independent TDs.

Conor Lenihan believes that the sudden department of Dr Jim McDaid from Leinster House has "left a hole in the Government's defences".

And in a Herald column today he strays away from the official Fianna Fail line that the Government has a mandate until summer 2012.

The comments come as Independent Michael Lowry gave a stern warning that the Budget is on shaky ground and in danger of falling.

The Tipperary TD said that his support and that of Jackie Healy Rae is "now more crucial than it has been in past".

But he suggested that it will be closer to Budget Day before he decides whether or not to support cutbacks of up to €6bn as the country "is on the brink of losing its economic independence".

Mr Healy Rae has indicated that he will offer a crutch to Taoiseach Brian Cowen so long as promised investment in his Kerry South constituency is honoured.

Science Minister Mr Lenihan conceded today that the Government's position has become extremely precarious with a "very slender majority".

He believes that Dr McDaid "caught the mood correctly" with his shock resignation yesterday but said his Fianna Fail colleagues are keen to keep the coalition afloat.

"These days there are frequently votes that come with a difference as small as three between Government and Opposition.

"Things are tight and will become even tighter now that McDaid has headed for the sunset but they are still manageable," he writes.

In a letter to Taoiseach Brian Cowen prior to his resignation, Dr McDaid called for an election on the grounds that only a Government with a majority of more than 20 can push through the tough austerity measures to rescue the economy.

Today, Minister Lenihan said: "The likelihood of a general election in 2011 is all the stronger but getting the budgetary framework accepted and front loaded is probably more important than considerations of whether an election should be held."

Fianna Fail and the Green Party now hold just 76 Dail seats which are complimented by three TDs outside the party whip and three Independents, including Mary Harney.

The Opposition is made up of 51 Fine Gael TDs, 20 Labour, four Sinn Fein and four Independents who normally vote against the Government.

A swing of two votes could instantly spark an election and there are four empty seats.