Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has confirmed that the country will go to the polls for a general election on Saturday, February 8.
In a brief statement at a rain-swept Government Buildings, the Fine Gael leader said that he was calling the novel weekend election at “the best time for the country”.
In truth the election news had been known for a good 90 minutes prior to the Taoiseach’s press conference at Government Buildings.
Mr Varadkar had informed the Cabinet of the election date at its weekly meeting this morning, before briefing opposition leaders in the aftermath.
In his five-minute speech, delivered in its entirety both in Irish and English, Mr Varadkar was keen to stress the ongoing nature of Brexit, the handling of which is generally seen as a boon for his administration, and said that “it’s only half-time” as far as the UK’s exit negotiations are concerned.
He said that “there now exists a window of opportunity” to hold an election and have a new Government in place before the next European Council meeting in March, with a “strong mandate” to focus on those Brexit negotiations.
Regarding the snubbing of an April election, which had previously been seen as the most likely landing date, the Taoiseach said that calling a vote now would ensure the avoidance of a campaign lasting many months, and ensuring that “difficult decisions” would not be deferred and “irresponsible promises” would not be made.
Mr Varadkar was keen to play up the perceived achievements of his Government.
“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, adding that “we have every reason to be hopeful about the future”.
This perhaps preempted Fine Gael’s new election slogan - “A Future To Look Forward To” - which follows the 2016 variant “Keep The Recovery Going”, widely accepted to have missed its mark somewhat.
How well the new mantra will play with the electorate remains to be seen.
The Taoiseach did, however, concede that his Government’s record “is not enough”.
“I know it’s not enough.”
He said that his party “share that frustration”, and that he would “look forward to sharing our plans to build on what has been done”, with a particular focus to be placed on housing issues and the move towards health reform.
Regarding the oddity of a Saturday election, Mr Varadkar said the decision had been made with the knowledge that polling on a weekday during a school term is an “inconvenience to families” in terms of “lost income, increased childcare costs”.
In truth, a weekend election is a common occurrence throughout Europe, though teachers and pupils missing out on an expected day off may not thank the Taoiseach for his decision.
“I also want to make it easier for students and those working away from home to cast their votes,” he said.
Mr Varadkar concluded his speech with a nod to his erstwhile Government partners the Independent Alliance, whose existence in the wake of Finian McGrath’s decision not to run in the coming election now hangs by a thread.
In a pointed off-script message he thanked the alliance “who have contributed so much to our country by having the courage to join us in Government, when others would not”.
“Now I seek a fresh mandate so we can continue to build a better future. A future we can all look forward to.
"We have the team. We have the track record. We have the plans,” he said.
With that, Mr Varadkar departed without taking questions. The 32nd Dail is no more, the campaign is officially afoot.