Joan Burton has emerged as the early favourite to succeed Eamon Gilmore as Labour Party leader – prompting fears of an Irish general election in the autumn.

Senior Fine Gael sources have told the Irish Times that an election call is likely if Burton wins the Labour race.

The senior Coalition partners know it will be impossible to push through a further $2.5billion in cuts in the next budget with Burton at the Labour helm.

Gilmore’s decision to quit in the wake of Labour’s abysmal performance in the European and local elections has sparked the election fears.

At least six other Labour deputies are interested in the post, but Social Protection Minister Burton is already the clear favorite.

She has started to canvass for support within the parliamentary party, according to the Irish Times.

Senior cabinet colleague Brendan Howlin is also considering the position, but he has failed in two previous bids for the leadership.

Junior ministers Alex White, Seán Sherlock and Alan Kelly and backbench deputies Arthur Spring and Dominic Hannigan have also expressed interest according to the paper.

Sources in Burton’s camp told the Irish Times that the ‘primary goal in the coming days would be to build a team to fight the campaign.’

They said she would focus on ‘core Labour values’ and support in the working classes and among public sector workers, and on bringing the party back to its level of 10 to 12 percent support.

Supporters believe Burton can gain the crucial support of members of the parliamentary party and has a proven ability to reach out to Labour supporters.

The source added: “A priority for government would also be to set out five or six things to improve people’s living standards.”

Senior Fine Gael sources have confirmed that a Burton victory would lead to an autumn election.

The source told the Irish Times it would be impossible to agree a budget given her stated positions.