Ireland voters head to the polls this month

The Irish government has announced
the country’s general election will be held 25 February — the first national
vote since Ireland accepted a multibillion-dollar bailout package late last
year in an effort to rebound from economic turmoil.

Ireland accepted $113 billion
bailout package in December from the European Union, International Monetary
Fund and individual European nations.

The government went deep into debt
to bail out the country’s banks during the financial crisis.

Prime Minister Brian Cowen said
Irish parliament was being dissolved; more than a year before his term in
office was due to expire.

Cowen had become a lightning rod
for criticism since Ireland applied for the international financial assistance
last year in the face of crushing government debt.

Cowen stepped down as leader of the
ruling Fianna Fail party last month, following weeks of political turmoil.
Former Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin was elected the new party
leader.

Cowen revealed he was retiring from
politics and would not be a candidate in the election.

His party is at a record low in
opinion polls.

During his farewell address to
parliament Cowen said his time in office had been “a time of great trial
and test.”

He added: “I believe we have
worked hard to correct past failures and to secure the future recovery of our
country.

“This election will define our
economic future and it will decide whether Ireland moves forward from this
recession or whether we prolong it or indeed succumb to it.”

Political commentators expect the
centre-right Fine Gael party and centre-left Labour Party to form a new
coalition government after the election.

Both parties say they are
determined to renegotiate elements of the bailout.