Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar announced on Tuesday that the country will hold general elections on Feb. 8.
In a statement issued by the Irish Government Press Office, Varadkar said that he had informed his cabinet about his election date decision on Tuesday morning and would ask President Michael D. Higgins to dissolve the Dail (lower house of the Irish parliament) in order to pave the way for the election.
Later on Tuesday, President Higgins signed the proclamation for the dissolution of the 32nd Dail after a brief meeting with Varadkar.
"I have always said the election should happen at the best time for the country. Now is that time," Varadkar said in the statement.
"We have a deal on Brexit in Northern Ireland. ... The next step is to negotiate a free trade agreement between the EU, including Ireland, and the United Kingdom. ... There exists now a window of opportunity to hold a general election to have a new government in place ... with a strong mandate to focus on these negotiations into the summer and autumn," he explained.
In the statement, Varadkar also summarized the major achievements of his government and pledged to do more for his country if re-elected as prime minister in the coming election.
Varadkar had said on previous occasions that he would prefer a general election to be held around May 2020 as his government needed to focus on dealing with the Brexit issue.
His change of mind regarding the election date was partially due to the fact that Fianna Fail, the largest opposition party in the Dail, has recently refused to support Varadkar's government in a proposed no-confidence vote in Health Minister Simon Harris in the coming sessions of the Dail, according to local media reports.
The current Irish cabinet is a minority government whose survival largely depends on a confidence-and-supply agreement between Fianna Fail and the ruling party Fine Gael led by Varadkar.
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin has criticized the government for its failure in tackling the housing and health issues in the country.
He said that the Irish people are facing enormous challenges, particularly in terms of housing.
"The inability of people to afford houses, housing prices and housing rents are simply far too high and there is a deep, deep crisis of homelessness right across every level of housing," he said, adding that "In health, again, we have a very serious crisis in terms of emergency departments and in terms of people waiting far too long for operations and procedures and for out-patient departments."
While the current Irish government led by Varadkar is vulnerable to the opposition parties' attacks on housing and health issues, it has indeed achieved something that will help it in the coming election, said local observers.
"We have a deal on Brexit and on Northern Ireland. Our economy has been stronger. There are more people at work than ever before, incomes are rising, poverty is falling and public finances are back in order. As a nation, we have every reason to be hopeful about the future. We've modernized our society, marriage equality, women's rights, real progress in education, welfare and childcare," said Varadkar while announcing the election date in the statement.
Varadkar promised in his statement that his government would "do much more" to address the housing and health issues in future.
(ASIA PACIFIC DAILY)
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