UPDATE 3-Irish election likely to be held in late Feb
* Poll likely on Feb 25 after agreement on fiscal law
* Opposition had demanded finance law rushed through
* Irish PM to dissolve parliament once process completed
(Adds completion of talks)
By Carmel Crimmins and Padraic Halpin
DUBLIN, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Ireland's finance minister said on Monday that he expected parliament to pass the finance bill by Saturday and opposition parties said that meant an election was likely to be brought forward to late February.
"I believe it will be extremely likely now that the next general election will be held on Friday, Feb 25," the opposition Labour's finance spokeswoman Joan Burton told reporters.
A late February election could make Brian Cowen's coalition the first to fall victim to the euro zone debt crisis.
The main Irish opposition parties, expected to form the next government, had threatened to bring down Prime Minister Brian Cowen's administration this week unless he agreed to fast-track the financial law and hold the poll sooner that the March 11 due date.
If the accelerated timetable for passing the finance bill -- an important condition of an IMF/EU bailout package -- is not met, the opposition parties' motions of no confidence in the government will be taken next Tuesday.
However, Finance Minster Brian Lenihan was confident that this would not be necessary and that the prime minister would be able to dissolve parliament once the process was completed. "I think it's a good day's work. I think it's important for the country that we are seen to unite at least in dealing with this measure," Lenihan told national broadcaster RTE.
Cowen's coalition partners pulled out of government on Sunday, capping a calamitous week in which eight ministers resigned, a cabinet reshuffle was thwarted and he himself resigned as leader of the Fianna Fail party. [ID:nLDE70M0AH]
That forced Irish debt to underperform relative to higher-yielding euro zone peers on Monday. [ID:nLDE70N27E]
While an immediate election would have shelved the finance bill until a new government was formed, this would not necessarily derail Ireland's fiscal plans.
The tax measures outlined in the bill are already being implemented, but it might have meant Dublin missed a deadline at the end of March for its full budget process to be passed.
Such a delay would have sent the wrong message to investors, already sceptical that Ireland can meet its fiscal and debt goals in the face of spluttering growth.
Alan McQuaid, chief economist with Bloxham Stockbrokers, said: "If they didn't pass the finance bill, bond yields would rise. The market would think that our commitment to the bailout package was weakening."
The week of political turmoil compounded negative sentiment towards the euro zone member with business leaders, struggling to survive in an unprecedented economic crisis, despairing at the political theatre. [ID:nLDE70M0EU]
"It's actually quite embarrassing, to be representing Ireland when you are trying to sell a story of certainty," said Danny McCoy, head of Ireland's main employers' group, IBEC.
"Ireland depends upon foreign direct investment, we have to be seen as people who are credible and trustworthy and sensible."
Faced with worsening cuts and tax increases, stubbornly high unemployment and the return of mass emigration, Irish people are itching to boot Cowen and Fianna Fail out of office.
The government's failure to rein in bankers and property developers, who often socialised with politicians, is at the root of the crisis which reached its nadir with an 85-billion-euro external rescue package in November.
Under the terms of the bailout, Dublin must drastically reduce its budget deficit, one of the worst in Europe, and overhaul its banks.
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