Cowen had hinted before yesterday that the election was planned for late March or early April, but confirmed that it will now take place on 11 March, after confidence in his Fianna Fáil party took another blow.
He also said that the country’s new finance bill, which implements December’s budget, will be released today – allowing legislative debate on the application to begin sooner than planned.
The upheaval follows Cowen successful vote of confidence earlier in the week, which saw him assume the role of foreign minister after Michael Martin challenged his leadership.
Despite winning the secret ballot of 71 Fianna Fáil members, an exodus of Cowen’s minister began on Wednesday, when independent minister for health and children Mary Harney stepped down.
She was followed by four others over the next 24 hours – Noel Dempsey, transport minister, Dermot Ahern at justice, defence minister Tony Killeen and enterprise minister Batt O’Keeffe.
Though each said they were not planning to stand in the next election, the resignations were seen as a cynical attempt by Cowen to force a reshuffle, and he was pushed to make a statement to parliament instead.
The latest Irish turbulence comes as figures were released showing that up to 1,000 people were leaving Ireland each week, surpassing even the level of emigration seen in 1989, when 44,000 left the country.
The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) estimated net migration to be 100,000 over the two-year period from April 2010 to April 2012, despite growth in the country’s exports, which had been touted as a driver for economic development.