Bertie Ahern, Prime Minister of the Irish Republic, this morning confirmed the date of the country's general election as 17 May, after announcing the dissolution of parliament last night.
Despite growing economic concerns, Mr Ahern's Fianna Fail party is expected to retain its place as the largest in the 166-seat Dail, keeping him in place as Prime Minister.
However, opinion polls suggest that Fianna Fail will not be strong enough to form a government on its own and the focus is on who will complete the governing coalition.
The election is expected on 17 May.
Fianna Fail has led most Irish governments since 1922 but the party has not commanded a parliamentary majority on its own for more than 20 years.
When Mr Ahern came to power in 1997, Ireland's economy was in the second year of an unprecedented economic boom underpinned by foreign corporate investment and European Union aid. But the vaunted Celtic Tiger economy has begun to weaken in the past year, with job losses and inflation both on the rise.
The Republic of Ireland's major business association and economic think-tank have both published reports this week warning that the next government will have much less room for manoeuvre than the outgoing administration, which was free to slash taxes and raise spending on the back of record tax revenues.
Mr Ahern's rivals condemned the manner of his announcement, complaining that he had failed to notify them so that they could be in the Dail, which was virtually empty for the announcement.
"It marks a shoddy end to a shoddy government," said Ruairi Quinn, the leader of the Labour party, which is widely tipped to form a coalition with Fianna Fail.Reuse content