Battle lines drawn as Ireland’s General Election date unveiled

With a signature and a wave from the Taoiseach, the 32nd Dail was officially dissolved ending months of speculation over when the next General Election will be held.

Shortly before 2pm on Tuesday, Leo Varadkar stood next to Ireland’s President Michael D Higgins at the Aras an Uachtarain after the Proclamation of Dissolution was signed.

It marked the beginning of a 24-day campaign.

The public will go to the polls on February 8 – a Saturday which will allow parents and those who live away from their constituencies the chance to vote.

While Mr Varadkar previously said he would have preferred a May general election, the Fine Gael leader knew time was up as the numbers in the Dail were stacked against him.

Mr Varadkar previously said he hoped to feel “the love of the people” when the public go to the polls days ahead of Valentine’s Day.

However, he may feel the loss of love from sports fans as polling day clashes with major Gaelic football and rugby matches.

The battles lines were quickly drawn with Fine Gael wasting no time in kick-starting their “A Future To Look Forward To” crusade.

One of the first indications of the day that a General Election announcement was imminent was the appearance of Mr Varadkar’s posters in his constituency around Phoenix Park.

There was also the confirmation that the Cabinet meeting was brought forward by 90 minutes to allow for what turned out to be a busy day for the Taoiseach and other parties.

As the Cabinet meeting drew to a close, the reverberating pings of mobile phones revealed the date the public will cast their votes.

Government staff quickly assembled speakers and a podium in the courtyard of Government Buildings ahead of Mr Varadkar’s statement to the media.

Mr Varadkar said: “I have always said the election should happen at the best time for the country – now is that time.”

Outlining his rationale, he said a deal on Brexit had been achieved and the UK would exit the EU in an “orderly” fashion.

“There will be no hard border, citizens’ rights have been protected and the Common Travel Area will remain in place,” he said.

Mr Varadkar stressed that Brexit “is not done yet”.

“In fact, it’s only half-time,” he added.

“The next step is to negotiate a free trade agreement between the EU, including Ireland, and the United Kingdom, that protects our jobs, our businesses, our rural communities and our economy.”

Following a short statement, he was whisked away to the Aras where he was joined by Mr Higgins in the State Drawing Room before official proceedings took place in the State Reception Room.

Mr Varadkar and Mr Higgins remained silent throughout, exchanging smiles and handshakes in front of the media before returning to the State Drawing Room.

As Mr Varadkar left the Aras, he turned back to thank Mr Higgins and Sabina.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin did not hesitate to highlight the failings of the Fine Gael government, citing housing and health as the biggest challenges.

“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.

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