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The eight things you need to know to be ready for this general election

Who runs the country now? How do you vote? And how can you check if you’re registered?

THE WAITING IS over and the election has been called.

Just over three weeks from today, on Friday, 26 February, the country will have its say on the hundreds of politicians putting their names before them.

But what’s at stake and how does it all work? Here’s a quick guide to the 2016 Irish general election.

First things first: let’s break down the numbers.

Nearly 500 candidates are now competing for 158 Dáil seats (excluding the automatically re-elected ceann comhairle) in 40 constituencies.

The number of seats has been cut from 166 since 2011, while the number of constituencies is down from 43, meaning this election will be even more difficult to predict.

Dáil_Chamber Wikimedia Commons Wikimedia Commons

Why will some constituencies have fewer TDs this time around?

After the current government committed to reducing the number of TDs, the amending provisions of the Electoral (Amendment) Act 2011 fixed the range for the total number of Dáil members at between 153 and 160, as compared with the current range of 164 to 168.

The constituency commission subsequently decided in 2012 that 158 seats was the most appropriate number to meet the ratio of deputies to population required by the constitution.

As a result, there are now 13 three-seat constituencies, down from 17 since the last election; 16 four-seaters, up from 15; and 11 five-seaters, unchanged since 2011. Eleven constituencies will keep the same number of TDs.

What we can we expect from the election debates?

RTÉ will be holding its main election debate between Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tánaiste Joan Burton, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams and Fianna Fáil’s Micheál Martin a few days before the election.

22/2/2011 General Elections Campaigns The party leaders during the 2011 Prime Time debate Leon Farrell / Photocall Ireland Leon Farrell / Photocall Ireland / Photocall Ireland

Before that, the Claire Byrne Live programme is hosting a seven-way leaders debate at the University of Limerick on 15 February.

As well as the aforementioned foursome, it will include representatives from Renua, the Social Democrats and the Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit partnership.

Exact details of both debates are yet to be confirmed. There has been some speculation that Kenny and Burton are unhappy with the prominence given to the leaders of smaller parties.

The Green Party and the Independent Alliance, which is not a party, have also registered complaints over their exclusion from the RTÉ debates.

TV3 is expected to announce its election coverage plans later today.

Who runs the country during the election? 

Ministers retain their roles: the taoiseach is still the taoiseach, and the cabinet can meet if needed. During the 2011 general election, for example, a fatal crash at Cork Airport required the then transport minister Pat Carey to perform his ministerial duties.

What happens to TDs?

For TDs, the position is less clear. The Dáil is dissolved and no longer exists, but outgoing TDs can still technically refer to themselves as deputies in election literature and on posters.

22/9/2015 Dail Returns From Summer Holidays Members of the media are barred from interviewing TDs on the Leinster House plinth after the election is called. Photocall Ireland Photocall Ireland

This situation contrasts with that in the UK, where outgoing MPs are even banned from referring to themselves as such in their Twitter usernames after an election is called.

Who can vote in the election?

Any Irish or British citizen who has been resident here since 1 September 2015 is eligible. Young people who have turned 18 by the polling day can also vote.

Can I still register to vote?

Yes. Now that the election has been called, you can apply to be included in a supplement to the register with the RFA2 form, which has to be received by your local council at least 15 working days before polling day.

Registered voters with new addresses can also apply for the supplement with the RFA3 form, which removes you from the register for your previous address.

Am I already registered? 

The easiest way to check is to visit and choose your local council from the drop-down list. From there, you can enter your details and make sure you’re registered at your current address.

We’ll have another explainer on the voting system closer to polling day.

- additional reporting from Hugh O’Connell 

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