Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton has given the strongest indication yet that the referendum on the fiscal treaty is likely to take place in early summer.

Speaking while on a visit to New York as part of the St Patrick's Day festivities, the Minister said there were two windows of opportunity to hold the ballot.

She said late May or early June and secondly, late June, early July are possible timeframes.

She said the Government was obviously anxious to avoid having a referendum during the period when the Leaving Certificate starts, or during the European Championships and the Eucharistic Congress.

The Minister added that the referendum does not have to be held until late October at the latest, but said there is a general agreement that it would be better to do it in the early summer.

Minister Burton said the treaty provides a framework of stability and US companies are very interested in doing business in Europe.

She Burton went on to say that “if citizens in Ireland vote for the treaty, they are voting to maintain Ireland's full status in terms of being a full active participant in the eurozone."

She also said it "gives access to the cushion of the European stability mechanism as we exit in an orderly way from the arrangements with the Troika and IMF."

Ms Burton also spoke of how the visits by the Taoiseach and Government ministers to the US for the St Patrick's Festival could encourage US investment in Ireland.