By Fiachra Ó Cionnaith
Former Labour leader Pat Rabbitte has added to growing consensus on when the election date will be by saying he believes it will take place on Friday February 26.
The former communications minister, who is stepping down from front-line politics when the Dáil is dissolved in the coming weeks after three decades as a TD, said this morning he believes the vote will be held on the widely predicted but still unconfirmed date.
"I'd say it's about the best stab you can make on it," he told reporters while arriving at Government Buildings today before the last term of the Dáil before the election is called.
“The Labour Party conference is the last weekend of January and I think once the Dáil resumes after that the Taoiseach may well be minded to go to the Park,” Mr Rabbitte said.
“If one conference happens I think all the conferences must be allowed take place. As it stands, Labour is the last of three [Fianna Fáil's one day conference is this weekend, followed by Fine Gael and then Labour, with Sinn Féin postponing its conference until April due to ongoing questions over when the election will be called] and in that case I think you won’t have long to hang around after that," he added.
While Taoiseach Enda Kenny told reporters during a coalition event on Monday that he has his preferred general election date "in my head" he has so far declined to clarify the matter publicly other than to say it will occur in early Spring.
Tánaiste and Labour leader Joan Burton yesterday said the two coalition party leaders have "had some discussions" over when the vote will take place, but has also declined to outline when this may be.
Speaking on RTE Radio's Morning Ireland programme this morning, the Government's chief whip and Fine Gael TD Paul Kehoe said he was unsure of when the general election will be called but stressed the Dáil and Seanad still has a number of pieces of legislation to pass before this occurs.
The view was also expressed by Labour's Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin this morning, who said before cabinet that there is still "uncompleted work".
However, he joked: “I wouldn’t advise any politician or political reporter to take any leave before the end of March".
The February 26 date has been increasingly suggested in recent months due to a number of factors.
These include a Government ambition to maximise the benefit of both parties' annual conferences at the end of this month, and the reality that holding a vote in March could lead to uncertainty over who is in power at the time of the annual State visit to the White House in the US.
Further issues affecting when the date will be held are the rumoured desire from Government not to hold the general election too close to the 1916 centenary celebrations in order to prevent any emotive increase in votes for Sinn Féin, and - crucially - the ongoing difficulties in the bank inquiry.
As previously detailed by the