Ireland will go to the polls next month in an early general election, Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said Tuesday, as he seeks to capitalise on a successful Brexit deal and restored power-sharing in Northern Ireland.
“The election will be held on Saturday, February 8th,” he said in a speech in Dublin, adding that he would ask President Michael D Higgins to dissolve parliament.
“We have a deal on Brexit and in Northern Ireland,” he added, explaining there was a “window of opportunity” to get a new government before the next European Council meeting in March.
Even though British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had brokered a deal with Brussels and looked set to leave the European Union by the end of the month, Varadkar said “Brexit is not done”.
“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,” he said.
Work on domestic policy hinged on the outcome of those talks, which have to end by December. Having a new government would allow there to be full focus on the negotiations, he said.
Calling an election for April or May would risk creating a protracted campaign, which would be a distraction and potentially see major decisions being deferred.
Next month’s vote is being called more than a year early. The last general election in February 2016 produced a hung parliament.
Fine Gael won 50 seats, while their fellow centre-right rivals Fianna Fail won 44, with leftists Sinn Fein third on 23 in the 158-seat Dail Eireann, the lower house of parliament.
In April 2016, Varadkar’s Fine Gael formed a minority government with the support of Fianna Fail and independent members of parliament.
Varadkar, 40, took over from Enda Kenny as prime minister or Taoiseach in June 2017.
Opinion polls suggest the election could be a close contest between the two main parties.