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General election to be held on Saturday 8 February, says Taoiseach

It would be the first Saturday general election in this country since 1918.

The date is essentially in the gift of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
The date is essentially in the gift of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
Image: PA Images

Updated Jan 14th 2020, 12:07 PM

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has confirmed Saturday 8 February as the date for the upcoming general election. 

The government held a Cabinet meeting this morning that was brought forward to 9am amid speculation that Varadkar could seek a dissolution of the Dáil later today.

Varadkar told TheJournal.ie in the past hour that the date for the election will be 8 February. It will be the first Saturday general election in this country since 1918. 

Varadkar said the decision on the day of the week was designed to ensure families don’t have to take a day’s annual leave or organise childcare, because schools are closed.

The Taoiseach will now go to Áras an Úachtraráin to ask President Michael D Higgins to dissolve the Dáil.  

On the way into Government Buildings this morning, ministers were unclear as to the what would happen next. 

Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone suggested that the election could be held on 14 February.

Health Minister Simon Harris said that he had “no idea” what the Taoiseach’s preference was but that politicians are in the “final days” of the Dáil.

Under the Constitution, an election must take place no more thirty days after a dissolution of Dáil Éireann, meaning that for an election to take place on 14 February the Dáil would have to be dissolved no earlier than Thursday.

Fine Gael’s minority government had been looking increasingly precarious since the new year and a possible motion of no confidence in Health Minister Simon Harris had hastened the advance of the election. 

Varadkar said on Sunday he has “made a decision” on the calling of an election but added that he won’t make it public yet, wanting to first speak to his Cabinet and to opposition leaders.

Some posters have already been seen erected with Sinn Féin councillor Paul Donnelly tweeting pictures showing posters for Varadkar already up in Castleknock. 

Varadkar’s decision means he will face the electorate as Fine Gael leader for the first time almost three years after becoming Taoiseach.

Soon after the date was made public, Varadkar tweeted a campaign video featuring what he said was about “good progress made since I’ve become Taoiseach”. 

Tweet by @Leo Varadkar Source: Leo Varadkar/Twitter

Who’s in the running?

Fine Gael entered government after the previous two elections in 2011 and 2016, firstly in coalition with Labour and then as a minority government with the support of some independents.

Fianna Fáil facilitated Fine Gael’s last four years in government from the opposition benches as part of a confidence and supply agreement.

The party will now be looking to return to government for the first time since it was dumped from power in the 2011 election. The vote will be Micheál Martin’s third general election as Fianna Fáil leader.

Like Varadkar, Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald is leading her party for the first time in a general election. The party will be fighting to keep the 23 seats in holds and McDonald has indicated she is open to entering government.

Observers will be closely watching the performance of the Green Party after impressive performances in the local and european elections with Labour also seeking to continue its rebuild programme.

Solidarity/People Before Profit are again running on a joint platform with the Social Democrats hoping to grow their Dáil representation of two TDs.

Peadar Tóibín’s Aontú party will be contesting its first general election and dozens of independent candidates will also be in the running.

- With reporting by Christina Finn

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Rónán Duffy

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