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General Election to take place on February 8; President dissolves 32nd Dáil

General Election to take place on February 8; President dissolves 32nd Dáil
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (right) with President Michael D Higgins following the his request to dissolve the 32nd Dáil. Picture: PA Wire

Additional reporting Juno McEnroe, Digital Desk and Press Association

The Taoisech Leo Varadkar has informed his Cabinet colleagues that General Election 2020 will take place on Saturday February 8.

The President dissolved the 32nd Dáil this afternoon, meaning the General Election campaign is officially underway.

Mr Varadkar arrived at Áras an Uachtaráin just before 2pm and signed the request for the dissolution.

It was then over to President Michael D Higgins to sign the Proclamation of Dissolution and with a quick handshake and a smile for the cameras it was all over.

The date of the election will be Saturday February 8, the Cabinet was told this morning.

It has also been reported this morning that a "future to look forward to" will be the Fine Gael slogan for its campaign. This follows on from its previous slogan the party had in the 2016 election campaign, where the incumbent party told voters it wanted to "keep the recovery going".

Election posters with Mr Varadkar's face were spotted being erected in his Dublin West constituency before the official commencement of the campaign.

A Saturday vote has triggered some debate but initial signs are that the decision is welcomed as it may allow more voters to get to vote.

Mr Varadkar cancelled this morning's meeting of Fine Gael ministers and brought Cabinet forward to 9am, fuelling fresh specuation the Dail could be dissolved today, which has since been confirmed.

There was a sense among some Fine Gael ministers that Mr Varadkar would not wish to go into the Dail and “take several hours of grief” from opposition TDs, who can now numerically defeat the Government, even if Fianna Fáil TDs abstain.

The news of the cancellation of the meeting comes after Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said the Taoiseach told him he cannot guarantee all of his own TDs will continue to vote for him.

Mr Varadkar reportedly told Mr Martin that he wasn’t confident of the vote of Maria Bailey, in the event of a vote of no confidence in Health Minister Simon Harris.

The two men are due to meet again this week.

The loss of three TDs in recent times had really put the Taoiseach in some difficulty Mr Martin said.

“He said to us that he wasn’t sure of some of his own people,” the Fianna Fáil leader said.

Mr Martin said that in the last four years Fianna Fáil had honoured the Confidence and Supply Agreement and that “no one can question Fianna Fáil’s bona fides.”

Were Mr Varadkar not to dissolve the Dail today, there was a strong sense within Fine Gael he would go to Aras an Uachtarain on Thursday, following the State visit of new European Commission President Ursula Von den Leyen on Wednesday, paving the way for an election on Friday February 7 or one week later on St Valentine's Day.

Should the election happen on either of those days, it emerged that thousands of voters face being excluded from the vote, as updates to the register only take effect from February 15.

Chairperson of the Public Accounts Committee Sean Fleming has said he wants the Dáil to pass a measure this week to ensure all these voters are on the register in time for an election.

Until that date, the register to which the thousands of people have added their names, is only a draft and not operable.

Mr Fleming is calling for the Dáil to address the matter before it is dissolved this week.

This story was updated at 3.06pm.

Earlier: Leo Varadkar set to ask President to dissolve the Dáil

There is growing speculation that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will ask the President to dissolve the Dáil as early as today.

The move to bring this morning's Cabinet meeting forward from its normal 10.30am start was last night seen as significant.

Reports circulated say that Saturday, February 8 is expected to be the election day.

There has been speculation that the election may take place on either February 7 or 14.

However, people who registered to vote last September or October will not be registered to vote until February 15 and therefore will not have a vote if the general election is called for either February 7 or Valentine's Day unless the law around registration is changed, according to Fianna Fáil’s Séan Fleming.

There was a sense among some Fine Gael ministers that Mr Varadkar would not wish to go into the Dail and “take several hours of grief” from opposition TDs, who can now numerically defeat the Government, even if Fianna Fail TDs abstain.

This morning, Verona Murphy, who lost in the recent by-election as a Fine Gael candidate, announced her intention to run as an Independent.

How is the election date decided?

Under Irish law, once the Dáil is dissolved and the President has issued a proclamation confirming it, the Clerk of the Dáil issues a writ to the returning officer in each constituency directing them to hold an election of the prescribed number of members.

A general election must be held within 30 days of the dissolution of the Dáil.

The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government appoints the polling day which must be between the 18th and 25th day (excluding Good Friday, Sundays and public holidays) after the issue of the writ issued by the Clerk of the Dáil.

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