Ireland’s premier will travel to see the country’s president later on Tuesday to ask for the dissolution of the Dail parliament ahead of a General Election next month.
Leo Varadkar’s visit to see Michael D Higgins at his resident at Aras an Uachtarain in Dublin will formally mark the start of the election campaign, with Ireland expected to go to the polls on February 8.
It is understood the Taoiseach confirmed the election date to cabinet colleagues at a meeting in Government Buildings in Dublin on Tuesday morning.
Mr Varadkar’s minority Fine Gael-led administration had been facing potential defeat in a vote of no confidence in Health Minister Simon Harris in the first week of next month.
That prospect will now be averted with the calling of the election.
Mr Varadkar’s personal preference was for a poll in the early summer but changing arithmetic in the Dail meant he could no longer guarantee a majority on key votes.
The dissolution of the 32nd Dail will end the historic confidence and supply deal between the state’s two main parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail.
This will be Mr Varadkar’s first election as Taoiseach having succeeded Enda Kenny as Fine Gael leader in 2017.
Ahead of making an official announcement outside Government Buildings, Mr Varadkar posted on Twitter: “We’ve made some good progress since I’ve become Taoiseach. But I know it’s not enough, and we want to do much more. @FineGael has the team, the track record and the plans to build a future we can all look forward to.”
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin highlighted the issues in housing and health as he reacted to the calling of the election.
“For us and the Irish people in particular this is a vital election in terms of their future because we are facing enormous challenges,” he said outside the parliament in Leinster House.
“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.
“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.
“Things are simply not working in this country in so many areas.”
The landmark pact between two parties founded from opposing sides of Ireland’s Civil War of the 1920s was struck in the wake of the inconclusive 2016 general election.
The arrangement, along with the support of several independent TDs, had keep Mr Varadkar’s administration in power ever since.
The election is widely predicted to hang on two major issues, health and housing, as the state continues to battle its worst ever housing crisis and hospital overcrowding reached record-breaking levels last year.
There are also concerns that thousands of people may not be registered to vote in the election, as a new register for 2020 will not become valid until February 15. The register is currently only in draft status.