Belfast Telegraph

Taoiseach announces February 8 as Ireland’s General Election day

Leo Varadkar was due to meet the President to formalise the dissolution of Parliament.

Micheal Martin and Leo Varadkar (Brian Lawless/PA)
Micheal Martin and Leo Varadkar (Brian Lawless/PA)

By David Young and Aoife Moore, PA

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has confirmed Ireland’s General Election will be held on Saturday February 8.

The Fine Gael leader travelled to see the country’s president on Tuesday afternoon to ask for the formal dissolution of the Dail parliament.

Earlier, announcing the election outside Government Buildings in Dublin, Mr Varadkar said it was the “right time” for Ireland to vote.

Outlining his rationale, he highlighted that the Brexit withdrawal deal had been agreed and powersharing was restored in Northern Ireland.

He said there was a need for a government to secure a fresh mandate to represent Irish interests in the next phase of Brexit negotiations, focusing on the future relationship between the EU and UK.

Mr Varadkar said it had been a privilege to lead the country as Taoiseach.

“Thank you for that honour and for your trust in me,” he said.

“We have a deal on Brexit and in Northern Ireland.

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Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin (Brian Lawless/PA)

“Our economy has never been stronger.

“There are more people at work than ever before, incomes are rising, poverty is falling and the public finances are back in order.

“As a nation, we have every reason to be hopeful about the future.

“We’ve modernised our society – marriage equality, women’s rights, real progress in education, welfare and childcare.

“But, it’s not enough. I know it’s not enough. People want their Government to do much more. And I want us to do much more.”

Mr Varadkar’s minority Fine Gael-led administration had been facing potential defeat in a vote of no confidence in Health Minister Simon Harris in the first week of next month.

That prospect will now be averted with the calling of the election.

Mr Varadkar’s personal preference was for a poll in the early summer but changing arithmetic in the Dail meant he could no longer guarantee a majority on key votes.

The dissolution of the 32nd Dail will end the historic confidence and supply deal between the state’s two main parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail.

The landmark pact between two parties founded from opposing sides of Ireland’s Civil War of the 1920s was struck in the wake of the inconclusive 2016 general election.

The arrangement, along with the support of several independent TDs, had keep Mr Varadkar’s administration in power ever since.

This will be Mr Varadkar’s first election as Taoiseach having succeeded Enda Kenny as Fine Gael leader in 2017.

The election is widely predicted to hang on two major issues, health and housing, as the state continues to battle its worst ever housing crisis and hospital overcrowding reached record-breaking levels last year.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin highlighted those issues as he responded to the setting of the election date.

“For us and the Irish people in particular this is a vital election in terms of their future because we are facing enormous challenges,” he said outside the parliament in Leinster House.

“Particularly in terms of housing – the inability of people to afford houses, housing prices and housing rents are simply far too high and there is a deep, deep crisis of homelessness right across every level of housing.

“In health, again, we have a very serious crisis in terms of emergency departments and in terms of people waiting far too long for operations and procedures and for out-patient departments.

“Things are simply not working in this country in so many areas.”

PA

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