Election called in the South

The Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, has set Thursday May 24th as the date for the general election in the 26 Counties.

He went to the Phoenix Park this morning to seek the dissolution of the 29th Dublin parliament from the President Mary McAleese.

The election is expected to be close with an alternative government of Fine Gael and Labour posing a major threat to the return of Ahern's coalition government after ten years in power.

Opinion polls show that at the moment no one party or coalition group has a clear lead.

In his opening remarks of the campaign, Ahern said he was "more interested in attacking problems than attacking people" He said the election was about "Ireland's future, protecting the progress we have made over the last ten years and building on it."

Launching Fine Gael's campaign with a walkabout through Dublin, Enda Kenny claimed the current Fianna Fail and Progresses Democrats coalition had a record of failure. He said the electorate knew the Government would not deliver health services that work."They know they won't deliver safe streets. They know they won't spend our money wisely. Their time is up."

The other parties welcomed the long-awaited dissolution of the Dail.

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams speaking in Belfast this morning said "Sinn Féin is going into this election campaign in a stronger position than every before".

"Over the next four weeks we will be campaigning the length and breadth of the country seeking a mandate for real change and equality.

"Our objective is to be in government, north and south and to deliver strong public services and to advance the peace process and preparations for Irish unity.'

Sinn Féin is standing 41 candidates with the objective to be in government, north and south.

"We believe in the right to universal access to decent healthcare, education and childcare, we believe in the constitutional right to a home, we believe in building the economy and using the wealth created for the public good," said Mr Adams.

"We believe in Irish re-unification and are advancing preparations to bring this about as soon as possible. These are our priorities for government.

Mr Adams said his party had proven ability "not just to negotiate successfully to advance the peace process but also to show leadership by taking major and sometimes difficult decisions in the national interest".

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