Those close to the Irish Government believe that Friday, March 11, has been earmarked for the date of Ireland’s general election. This will follow an eight-week campaign when the Government returns to parliament in mid-January.

Fianna Fail are looking for a long campaign period. It is their hope that they can use the time to high-light the policy gulf between Fine Gael and the Labour Party. They will target Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore.

Green Party members are putting pressure on the party leaders to push for a general election as soon as possible. However, the Green Party is now committed to seeing through the finance bill which will not be completed until mid-February.

The election campaign will not technically begin until the dissolution of the Government, which will be after the finance bill is brought in.

A senior government deputy said “It will be a long, long campaign. Once Christmas is over, it'll start.”

One theory, which is being denied, is that Prime Minster Brian Cowen may announce the enactment of the finance bill by a certain date in February and then formally seek a dissolution of the Government. This would artificially lengthen the election campaign.

However, legislation means that there can only be 25 days of polling between the dissolution and polling day.