Election 2020: All you need to know about the upcoming general election

Why is it on a Saturday? Who is in charge for the next few weeks? Who is promising what?

And they are off... as the election for the 33rd Dáil begins, Irish Times Political Editor Pat Leahy predicts what the big issues will be. Video: Bryan O'Brien/Reuters/Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael


When is the general election happening?

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has announced the general election will be held on Saturday, February 8th. He met with President Michael D Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin on Tuesday, where the 32nd Dáil was dissolved. The new Dáil will meet for the first time on Thursday, February 20th.

Why is there an election on a Saturday?

A Saturday polling day is unusual with all elections in recent decades taking place on a Thursday or Friday. However, Ireland’s historic 1918 election was held on a Saturday in December while the Nice Referendum and Children’s Referendum were also held on Saturdays.

The Taoiseach said he decided to hold the election on a Saturday to make voting easier for families with children. “I do so knowing the inconvenience to families of a polling day on a weekday during school term – time off work, lost income, increased childcare costs,” he said. “I also want to make it easier for students and those working away from home to cast their votes.”

Wait, February 8th sounds familiar. Is something else on that day?

Good point. Ireland play Wales at the Aviva Stadium in rugby’s Six Nations Championship on the 8th while the Dublin-Monaghan national football league match is also scheduled to take place in Croke Park.

Who is in charge until then?

Varadkar will remain Taoiseach and Simon Coveney Tánaiste, and all other Ministers will stay on until the new Dáil is formed. TDs, however, are no longer TDs.

When will nominations close?

Nominations for candidates in the general election closed at noon on Wednesday, January 22nd.

Am I eligible to vote and if not, can I still register?

Anyone in doubt should visit checktheregister.ie to see if their details are included on the 2019-2020 electoral register. If you’re not listed you should contact your local authority.

The deadline to register as a voter in this election was Wednesday, January 22nd. The February 8th election date meant that thousands of people who registered to vote since last May’s European and local elections would not be eligible as the register of electors is not updated until February 15th, as stipulated in the Electoral Act 1992.

The only way of registering before that was to get your name added to the supplementary register.

What are the different political parties promising me?

Fine Gael has moved on from their 2016 slogan of “let’s keep the recovery going” to “a future to look forward to” while Fianna Fáil is sticking with its 2016 slogan of “An Ireland for All”. The decision to reuse these words is because “it’s not a slogan, it is a philosophy, it is a viewpoint,” said Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin. “We want to bring people in from the cold.”

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, whose party is running with the slogan ‘an Ireland for all’. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, whose party is running with the slogan ‘an Ireland for all’. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said Ireland needed to change “the entire transport system, the entire food system, the entire energy system and the entire waste system” to protect future generations, adding that these changes would take “at least a decade”. “This election is about the decade ahead, not just the next four or five years,” he said.

Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin said his party was “not a debating society” but was focused on getting problems fixed and committed to building 80,000 social and affordable homes if Labour makes it into a government coalition. Senator Ivana Bacik, director of elections for the party, said the campaign would focus on “real solutions including five non-negotiable proposals on housing, health, work, children and climate”.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the party would deliver the “largest” programme of public housing building in the history of the State if elected to government, adding the message that “the housing crisis can be sorted”. Sinn Féin has said it will also introduce a three-year rent freeze.

People Before Profit tweeted that people should “vote to break the cycle of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil” and called on the public to “vote for our future” and “take it back from the landlord parties”.

The Social Democrats described the upcoming election as “a chance for people to change the direction Ireland is going on” and called on people “who hope for better to vote for better”. “At the core of social democracy is putting people first,” said the party. “Not vested interests, not golden circles, but the common good.”

When are the leaders’ debates?

The first head-to-head debate between Varadkar and Martin was on Wednesday night on Virgin Media One. Claire Byrne is chairing a debate between the leaders of seven parties on RTÉ on Monday, January 27th. Virgin is hosting another seven-way debate chaired by Matt Cooper and Ivan Yates on Thursday January 30th while RTÉ has planned a Prime Time debate between Varadkar and Martin on February 4th.

What are the polls saying?

The first Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll published on Monday night put Fianna Fáil in the lead on 25 per cent, Fine Gael in second on 23 per cent and Sinn Féin a close third on 21 per cent. Labour was on 5 per cent, the Greens on 8 per cent and Independents and others on 18 per cent. The survey of 1,200 adults was taken on Thursday, Friday and Saturday of last week.

A Sunday Times/Behaviour and Attitudes poll published last Sunday had Fianna Fáil on 32 per cent with a 12-point lead over Fine Gael.

Profiles of each of the 39 constituencies can be found at irishtimes.com/election2020