Election 2020: Campaign under way as Varadkar sets Saturday poll for February 8th

Taoiseach says now is the best time for vote as President Higgins dissolves 32nd Dáil

The general election will be held on Saturday, February 8th, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar confirmed, speaking outside Government Buildings before travelling to Áras an Uachtaráin to seek a dissolution of the 32nd Dáil from President Michael D Higgins.

The general election campaign is firmly under way ahead of the first Saturday polling day in more than a century was announced by Leo Varadkar for February 8th.

Press conferences were being convened and election posters were being hung on lampposts as Mr Varadkar travelled to Áras an Uachtaráin at lunchtime on Tuesday to seek a dissolution of the 32nd Dáil from President Michael D Higgins.

Mr Varadkar said the election should happen at the best time for the country: “now is that time.” President Higgins signed the proclamation for dissolution shortly after 2pm.

Outlining his rationale for calling the election now the Taoiseach said a Brexit deal had been achieved which would see the UK 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.

He said an agreement to restore powersharing in Northern Ireland had also been reached.

He said the next priority was to secure a free-trade agreement between the EU, including Ireland, and the United Kingdom, that protected the Irish economy.

The capacity for the government to do everything else that needs to be done: in “health, housing, climate action, tax reform,” was dependent on this agreement he said.

Mr Varadkar said there was a window to hold an election now with the aim of having a new government in place before the next European Council meeting in March.


A Saturday polling day is unusual, with elections in recent decades taking place on a Thursday or Friday.

Fine Gael figures have said Saturday polling means schools will not be closed so parents will not have to find alternative childcare arrangements.

Mr Varadkar spoke to Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and other Opposition leaders after the Cabinet meeting this morning and informed them of his decision.

Fine Gael figures also point to the second Nice Referendum, which was held on Saturday October 19th, 2002, and the Children’s Referendum, which was held on a Saturday, November 10th, 2012.

The Children’s Referendum saw a very poor turnout of 33 per cent. The second Nice referendum saw a turnout of 49 per cent.

Fianna Fáil Leader Micheál Martin speaks to reporters at Leinster House after Mr Varadkar confirmed the election will be held on February 8th. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin welcomed an end to the indecision but noted the short duration of the campaign.

“We want the public to have sufficient time to examine the policies and proposals, and a longer campaign would’ve given greater opportunity for the public to hold the government to account,” Mr Martin said.

He added: “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 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.

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

Sinn Féin

Sinn Fein Leader Mary Lou McDonald outside Leinster House. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw /The Irish Times

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said she is not underestimating the challenge facing her party in the general election but pledged it will be “very different” to last year’s local election campaign.

“Every election campaign is about convincing the people, voter by voter, and there’s no room for complacency or certainly arrogance, but I’m very confident that we have a very strong slate of candidates. We’ve got a very strong policy platform and we look forward to taking that to the doorsteps.”

Labour Party

Marking the opening of the Labour Party campaign leader Brendan Howlin said: “We need to stop wasting public money. We need to build houses and we need to fix health”.

He sought to cast his party as one that can be trusted with public spending and the economy and repeated his call for a transfer pact on the centre left, calling on Labour voters to transfer to the Greens, Social Democrats and “progressive independents”. His party will enter government, he said, if it can get a “critical mass” of TDs elected.


Having been dissolved the Dáil will not meet tomorrow and the election campaigns are effectively under way.

Candidates - including the Taoiseach - have already begun to erect their election posters, with Mr Varadkar's campaign posters going up on the Navan Road in Dublin West this morning.

The Taoiseach had previously expressed a preference for a May election but changed his mind as the voting strength of his Fine Gael-led minority coalition weakened in recent weeks.

Among those candidates who on Tuesday declared their intention to run were deselected Fine Gael candidate Verona Murphy, who said she will run as an Independent in Wexford, and former MEP Marian Harkin, who will contest a seat in the Sligo/Leitrim constituency.

However, Dublin Bay North TD and Minister of State for Disability Issues Finian McGrath confirmed he will not seek re-election.

Speaking before he went to the Áras, Mr Varadkar said it had been a privilege to lead the country as Taoiseach.

“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.

He said under a Fine Gael led-government Irish society had been modernised in terms of marriage equality and women’s rights and had made progress in terms of 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.”

There are a number of significant sporting events taking place on Saturday, February 8th.

Ireland will take on Wales at the Aviva Stadium in rugby’s Six Nations Championship, while the Dublin-Monaghan national football league is scheduled for Croke Park.

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times