Local government elections in Northern Ireland have been brought forward to Thursday 5 May, it has been announced.
The elections will be moved to earlier in May
They had originally been due to happen later that month but have been changed to bring the date into line with the rest of the UK.
The move has added to speculation that a general election will be called for the same date.
Northern Ireland minister John Spellar said future council elections will be held on the first Thursday in May.
'Discussed the step'
They had previously been held on the third Wednesday in May.
Mr Spellar put an Order in Council before the Westminster parliament which will mean local elections due on Wednesday 18 May 2005 will now take place on Thursday 5 May.
He said: "This measure brings local election dates in Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the United Kingdom.
"The Government discussed this step in advance with both the Chief Electoral Officer of Northern Ireland and the Electoral Commission."
Alliance Party leader, David Ford, said the decision will lead to a proper debate on local issues being overshadowed by constitutional issues.
He said: "This is clearly a fix to ensure that the local elections coincide with the expected general election.
"This may be simpler for the election administrators, but is actually very
bad for local democracy and in particular the interests of local government."