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Ireland sets date for general election

By Peter Taggart, For CNN
  • It's the first vote since the country accepted a massive bailout package
  • Prime Minister Brian Cowen gives farewell address to parliament
  • He will not be a candidate in the election to be held February 25

(CNN) -- The Irish government announced Tuesday that the country's general election will be held February 25 -- 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 an 85 billion euro (U.S. $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 announced Tuesday that the 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 Monday that 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 Tuesday, 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 center-right Fine Gael party and center-left Labour Party to form a new coalition government after the election. Both parties say they are determined to renegotiate elements of the bailout.