Education minister Mary Coughlan has been forced to cancel a visit to the United States to showcase Ireland’s universities because of a refusal by the opposition parties to agree to pair her.

Pairing is when a minister is out of the country on official business and the opposition parties agree their equivalent member will not vote in her absence.

It is part of a new drive by the main opposition parties Fine Gael and Labor to force an election as soon as possible after polls in the past week showed the combined colaition government with barely 25 per cent support.

Coughlan was down to speak at an Enterprise Ireland events in Boston and Chicago but has now canceled.

A  Government spokesman described the cancellation as “particularly embarrassing for Enterprise Ireland” as the purpose of the trip was to “promote Ireland as a study destination for the Irish American community and deliver “economic messages” to potential investors.

“The Minister’s  profile had been used to secure access to and meetings with key influencers in the education sector in Boston and Chicago,” he said.

The opposition Fine Gale party said it was Coughlan who had misled them by giving dates this week to answer key questions on education even though she knew she was due out of  the country at the time.

The Fine Gael spokesman on the environment Phil Hogan also confirmed his party would seek to  force elections in three outstanding by elections on Wednesday. “It is clear that the Government is unravelling. We need an immediate general election . . . we need to get our country working again,” he said.

The Government can count on the votes of 79 members while the Opposition is sure of 75. The voting intentions of eight others are becoming more difficult to predict.

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