by Samantha Calthrop
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has announced that a general election will be held on Saturday February 8th. It takes place four years after the 2016 General Election, which elected the Fine Gael/Fianna Fáil alliance that currently heads the Dáil.
This is the first election since 1918 to be held on a Saturday. “I do so knowing the inconvenience to families of a polling day on a weekday during school term – time off work, lost income, increased childcare costs,” said Leo Varadkar, “I also want to make it easier for students and those working away from home to cast their votes.”
Fine Gael’s popularity has suffered following the RIC celebration controversy, where the party insisted on supporting a commemoration of lives lost from the RIC during the Rising, against the advice of an advisory committee. Fine Gael Ministers Simon Harris and Eoghan Murphy have also suffered in popularity, as the issues of the healthcare and homelessness crises have been widely documented and condemned during their term. Eoghan Murphy, Minister for Housing, has been the target of criticism after a homeless man was severely injured in Dublin, when an industrial vehicle attempted the move the tent he was sleeping inside. Eoghan Murphy later removed one of his election posters from the site where the man was injured.
A motion of No Confidence was also signed against Simon Harris shortly before the date of the election was announced. The Social Democrats, Green Party, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have all formally launched their campaigns at the time of writing, all largely concerned with the key issues of housing, health, and the environment.
In particular, Leo Varadkar pointed out that Fianna Fáil MEP Billy Kelleher plans to vote against the The EU Withdrawal agreement, saying, “Thankfully Fianna Fáil hasn’t much influence in Europe.” Fine Gael also promised to address healthcare, homelessness and childcare cost issues.
Fianna Fáil largely focused on blaming Fine Gael for the problems of the past five years, with Michéal Martin stating that Fine Gael claimed they could not address problems with homelessness and healthcare because they were handling economic issues. He described a Fine Gael government as “more of the same for the next five years,” and described Fianna Fáil as “campaigning for change.” He also criticised “silly attacks” on the topic of the EU, saying Billy Kelleher was voting out of concern for Northern Irish Citizenships.
Other parties have been quick to blame the current FG/FF coalition for current social issues. Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald accused FG/FF of “defending the status quo”, and promised housing reform, rent freezes and a lower retirement age, among others. When asked about Fine Gael’s new campaign, she said, “I think most people are dealing with the entrails of Fine Gael’s past and their past performance… I think it is very difficult to convince us or anybody else that Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael will do anything differently than they have done before.”
The Green Party have released a manifesto under the slogan, “Want green, vote Green”. Party leader Eamon Ryan stated, “We want to change the entire transport system, energy system, industrial system, waste system, food system – for the better – to tackle the climate & biodiversity crises we face, and ensure that delivers social as well as ecological justice.”
People Before Profit tweeted that people should “vote to break the cycle of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil”, focusing particularly on ecological and homelessness issues.
Labour leader Brendan Howlin has promised more social housing and affordable homes if the party is to be elected into a coalition. The Social Democrats have launched their campaign with focuses on housing, health and transport. At their campaign launch, the Social Democrats twitter posted, “The solutions are simple. The Social Democrats have them, it’s in social democracy; it’s in building for the future.”
Aontú, lacking any state funding, have launched a private crowdfunding campaign to fund their running for the next Dáil after they failed to win a single seat last time. Opinion polls suggest that political opinions are in much the same place they were in 2016, although the Green Party have experienced a surge in popularity recently. The new Dáil Éireann is set to meet for the fist time on Thursday February 20th.