Irish President Mary McAleese has dissolved the country's parliament in preparation for a general election to be held on 24 May.
Bertie Ahern faces an uphill struggle for re-election
The move was requested by Prime Minister Bertie Ahern as he seeks a third term in power.
Elections are held every five years, and this year's poll must take place by early June.
Opinion polls suggest a tight race, correspondents say, with no potential coalition having a clear lead.
Ms McAleese, who is leaving for a week-long visit to the US later on Sunday, said the new parliament would convene on 14 June to elect a new government.