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Greens pull plug, bringing election closer

AN early general election is on the cards after the Green Party dramatically pulled out of government yesterday, the Irish Independent reports.

In the Fianna Fail leadership race , three out of five TDs had yet to publicly declare who they were backing, although Michéal Martin remained the clear front-runner.

Cross-party talks involving Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, the Labour Party, Sinn Fein and the Greens will begin today to find a way to get the law needed to implement the Budget passed quickly.

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The opposition is offering to facilitate the debate, but is not promising to vote for it.

But if Finance Minister Brian Lenihan cannot guarantee the Finance Bill will be passed by the end of this week, Fine Gael and Labour are threatening to push motions of no confidence, which Brian Cowen's minority Government cannot win.

Cowen and Lenihan both claimed last night that the legislation could not be passed in just one week, as it was too complex.

The Government and opposition parties insist the bill is a central plank of the IMF/EU bailout secured in November. And there are concerns that any uncertainty about its future will unnerve both international investors, the EU and IMF.

Independent TDs Jackie Healy-Rae and Michael Lowry warned last night that their support for the Finance Bill was "not guaranteed".

Both voted in favor of almost every government measure in the past four years, including budgets.

Green Party ministers John Gormley and Eamon Ryan resigned from Cabinet yesterday as the junior coalition partners announced they would be moving to the opposition benches.

The Greens' departure leaves just seven ministers in Cabinet -- the bare minimum required by the Constitution.

Gormley said the party would still vote for the Finance Bill.

"Our patience has reached an end. Because of these continuing doubts, the lack of communication and the breakdown in trust, we have decided that we can no longer continue in government," he said.

Even if the Government succeeds in pushing the passing of the Finance Bill into next week, the general election will still be earlier than the March 11 date named by the Taoiseach just last week.

March 4, February 25 and even February 18 were last night being mooted as new dates.