The Irish finance bill passed its critical first step in the Irish parliament today after two independents withdrew their opposition to the bill.

They had threatened to vote against it, triggering an immediate General Election.

One of them, Michael Lowry, announced that he and his colleague Jackie Healy Rae would now back the bill after consultations with the Finance Minister Brian Lenihan (photo).

If it had been defeated it would also have raised major questions about the EU/IMF rescue package for the Irish economy after the recent crash.

As it currently stands the finance bill is now expected to go through all stages by Monday or Tuesday next triggering the General Election, now likely set for February 25th.