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Battle lines drawn with public to go to the polls February 8

Battle lines drawn with public to go to the polls February 8

With a signature and a wave from the Taoiseach, the 32nd Dáil 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 President Michael D Higgins at the Áras an Uachtaráin 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 according to the Taoiseach 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 Dáil 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 Áras 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 Áras, he turned back to thank Mr Higgins and Sabina.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál 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.

The Opposition leader opened his party's election battle by attacking Fine Gael's newly released slogan for the campaign.

Fine Gael's slogan, which has been launched in a video with Mr Varadkar today, says the party is campaigning and offering voters “a future to look forward to.”

However, Mr Martin took issue with the slogan and said the Fine Gael-led government had in fact “created an uncertain” future for people in Ireland, particularly when it came to housing and healthcare.

He said he was not so certain that people would look forward to housing problems, health issues, as well as childcare and insurance costs and education delays.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said her party have “listened and learned” from their local election losses and is optimistic they can gain more seats in the Dáil.

Ms McDonald said the party had learned from their previous mistakes and that she was looking forward to her first general election as party leader.

“This campaign will be very different, we’ve listened, we’ve learned, we’ve been very honest with each other,” she said.

Meanwhile, Labour has not ruled out working with Sinn Féin in government, calling on left-leaning parties to join forces in voting pacts as the general election campaign gets underway.

Party leader Brendan Howlin also said he hopes to deliver a “critical mass” of TDs to the next Dáil.

Speaking at the party’s first election press conference in Dublin on Tuesday, he said the party is running 31 candidates and hopes to return “a significant cohort” of Labour TDs.

Mr Howlin said the party will seek to tackle wasteful government spending if it is elected.

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