Taoiseach Enda Kenny has dismissed strong speculation of a general election later this year with a definite commitment on Monday that he does not plan to dissolve the Dail (parliament) until next spring.

There had been widespread expectation, with parties already selecting their candidates or in the process of selecting them, that there would be an election after the October budget which is expected to produce improved benefits for the elderly and families with children.

Kenny said he had always stated that the election will be in spring 2016. His Fine Gael party colleague Aine Collins predicted on local radio in Cork, while Kenny was talking in Mayo, that the election date will be February 26.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin has insisted that he is “absolutely” the only alternative Taoiseach to Kenny.

But Martin also rejected the prospect of Fianna Fail going into partnership in coalition with Sinn Fein.

That followed a proposal by Fianna Fail TD (member of Parliament) Bobby Aylward that a “lot of people in the party” would support going into government with Sinn Fein.

Aylward insisted that he has “very strong reservations” about Sinn Fein but said other party members and some of his own supporters would support coalescing with the party.

Martin had different advice. “People are heartened by the fact we are not going into government with Sinn Fein for a range of reasons, not just economic but other factors as well,” he said.

Observers say that Fianna Fail is so desperate to return to power that the party believes it could form a government with Labor and a selection of independents, or even be prepared to go into partnership with bitter rivals Fine Gael.

Martin has challenged Kenny to enter a one-on-one debate. He said Fine Gael's fundamental strategy was to “hide” Kenny as often as they could in order to propel themselves to victory.”

“It will be up to the Taoiseach to be up front and debate publicly with me in relation to these issues, so we can have a fulsome, energetic and active campaign, where political leaders don’t go for the soundbites or running for the organized PR opportunities,” Martin said.