Country will go to the polls in 35 weeks, says minister as he warns of Sinn Fein danger
The General Election will take place next February, according to Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan.
In an interview with the Herald, Mr Flanagan predicted the next Government would again be a "Fine Gael-led" coalition that would include the Labour Party.
The Laois/Offaly TD also warned that Sinn Fein had the potential to land the country in economic disaster if elected to power.
The former Fine Gael parliamentary party chairman said the public finances had been stabilised even if had "caused a lot pain", but said we were "now the pride of Europe" in terms of our economic growth.
"Everywhere I go I accept plaudits for the economic growth, and people say to me to give my regards to Enda Kenny as he has done a very good job," he said.
Mr Flanagan also said he feared that the power-sharing institutions in the North were about to collapse.
But in relation to the General Election, Mr Flanagan said the Government would run for another 35 weeks - as it has 35 weeks of work left to do.
Two weeks ago, Taoiseach Enda Kenny appeared to raise the idea of a November election. However, Mr Flanagan's declaration of the Government running to the last week in February would reflect Mr Kenny's known preference for the election to take place then.
"I expect there will be an election in 35 weeks' time. I say 35 weeks because there is 35 weeks of work to do. The Programme for Government is not yet complete," he told the Herald.
"I believe the election will be next year because we have about 30,000 jobs to create between now and then," he said.
Asked to explain the relentless speculation about a November election, Mr Flanagan said: "There is evidence of election planning. Over the next few months all of our conventions will have been held. We are looking at parts of the Programme for Government that need to be completed."
He said he wanted to see cuts to the Universal Social Charge in October's Budget, as such a move would be a major contributor to creating jobs.
Mr Flanagan spoke to the Herald last Thursday in the wake of the Berkeley balcony tragedy and before yesterday's opinion poll showing a four-point jump in support for Fianna Fail.
Despite the polls showing the Coalition being well short of a majority in terms of electoral support, he said the next Government would be a "Fine Gael-led Government" made up of Fine Gael and Labour. He said the Coalition had done particularly well in terms of cohesion and that stability was its greatest asset.
He said the country's recovery was best guaranteed by re-electing Fine Gael and Labour.
Meanwhile, a new Behaviour & Attitudes poll for the Sunday Times showed a tightening in the gap in support between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.
The poll showed that support for Michael Martin's party had increased by four points to 21pc.
It is the highest rating achieved by Fianna Fáil in over a year and may dampen unrest within the party over Martin's leadership.
The surge in support comes despite the fallout from Senator Averil Power's shock resignation and the revelation that prominent party figures refused to campaign for a Yes vote in the marriage-equality referendum.
Fine Gael saw its support drop three points to 24pc, but the party remains the most popular in the country.
Labour support increased by one point to 9pc. This is the second consecutive poll increase achieved by the junior coalition partner.
Sinn Fein's support dropped a point to 19pc and Independents/others were unchanged at 26pc.