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This will be the first Saturday general election since 1918

Some referendums have taken place on Saturdays.

Image: Niall Carson/PA Archive/PA Images

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has confirmed that the date of the election will be 8 February, setting up a historic Saturday polling day. 

For the last few days, there had been furious speculation about when Taoiseach Leo Varadkar would call an election. 

Now, with the date of 8 February confirmed, campaigning will begin in earnest. 

The date is doubly significant, because this will be the first Saturday election since 1918, one of the key elections in Irish history. 

The 1918 election was a crucial moment in Irish history and saw over 70 representatives reject Westminster and set up a parliament in Dublin.

Elected representatives, such as Countess Markievicz, Michael Collins and Éamon de Valera, were among those Sinn Féin MPs to set up the first Dáil after the vote on Saturday 14 December 1918. 

The election signalled an enormous leap for the party, almost wiping out the Irish Parliamentary Party which had been the dominant voice in Irish politics for decades. 

Referendums

There is a more recent precedent for referendums to be held on Saturdays. The Nice referendum in 2002 was held on a Saturday, as was the Children’s Referendum in 2012. 

However, traditionally polling day in Ireland has been on a weekday. 

Precedent was broken in 2001 when a by-election took place on a Saturday. 

Varadkar had 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 up in Castleknock. 

Turnout

Questions will now turn to how the weekend polling day will affect voter turnout. 

TheJournal.ie understands that the Saturday date was selected so that families don’t need to take time off work to look after children if schools – often used as polling stations – are closed. 

While there is little evidence to predict how turnout will be impacted by a weekend date, Maynooth University elections expert Adrian Kavanagh told TheJournal.ie that the Saturday date for a 2001 by-election, which took place in Tipperary South, had little impact on turnout. 

Indeed, turnout was actually higher in the 2001 by-election than a by-election in the same constituency the year before, which was held on a Thursday. 

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