Varad­kar gam­bles on first Satur­day elec­tion in cen­tury

:: FG pins hopes on min­is­ters as FF fo­cuses on need for change

Irish Independent - - Front Page - Philip Ryan, Fion­nán Shea­han and Hugh O’Con­nell

Week­end poll:

Taoiseach hopes to se­cure votes of work­ing fam­i­lies

Party strat­egy:

FG plans 3-pronged cam­paign while FF to fo­cus on Martin

In­de­pen­dents:

Al­liance ef­fec­tively col­lapses fol­low­ing min­is­ter’s res­ig­na­tion

FINE GAEL is plan­ning a three-pronged cam­paign which will see the party’s key play­ers sep­a­rately seek to shore up sup­port ahead of polling day on Satur­day, Fe­bru­ary 8.

It will be the first time an elec­tion has been held in Ire­land on a Satur­day since 1918 – with Fine Gael hop­ing the week­end vote will help more work­ing fam­i­lies and stu­dents favourable to the party to get to the polls.

Taoiseach Leo Varad­kar and Tanáiste Si­mon Coveney will em­bark on sep­a­rate na­tion­wide tours while Fi­nance Min­is­ter Paschal Dono­hoe will be based in the party’s head­quar­ters in Dublin.

Mr Varad­kar and Mr Coveney will both cam­paign sep­a­rately with elec­tion can­di­dates while Mr Dono­hoe, who is the party’s di­rec­tor of elec­tions, will hold daily brief­ings on the key is­sues.

Mean­while, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin will launch a sim­i­lar ground of­fen­sive, re­ly­ing less on staged events in favour of meet­ing as many vot­ers as pos­si­ble.

The op­po­si­tion leader, who be­lieves the main par­ties are “neck and neck”, will push the mes­sage that the coun­try needs change af­ter nine years of Fine Gael govern­ment.

How­ever, Fine Gael is ea­ger to high­light its min­is­te­rial team dur­ing the cam­paign, and a party source said Health Min­is­ter Si­mon Har­ris and Hous­ing Min­is­ter Eoghan Mur­phy will be “out front and cen­tre” de­fend­ing their records. “We will be very much tak­ing on hous­ing and health and Si­mon and Eoghan will be im­por­tant fig­ures,” the source said.

Fine Gael is also ex­pected to tar­get Border com­mu­ni­ties over the next three and half weeks to high­light its per­for­mance on Brexit.

The party’s cam­paign launch is be­ing held to­day in a fork­lift

fac­tory in Co Mon­aghan.

Yes­ter­day, the Taoiseach said he called the elec­tion for Fe­bru­ary 8 be­cause he wanted a new govern­ment in place for a cru­cial Euro­pean Coun­cil Sum­mit on Brexit on March 26.

Mean­while, Fianna Fáil will launch a ma­jor ground of­fen­sive fo­cus­ing on party leader

Micheál Martin meet­ing vot­ers dur­ing daily can­vasses with teams of can­di­dates.

Last night, he was can­vass­ing with the party’s Dublin North West can­di­date Paul McAuliffe in Fin­glas.

Fianna Fáil’s core mes­sage will be that the coun­try wants change and it will crit­i­cise

Fine Gael for making longterm prom­ises about fix­ing the health ser­vice and the hous­ing sec­tor in the dis­tant fu­ture. A Fianna Fáil source said Fine Gael’s elec­tion slo­gan, “a fu­ture to look for­ward to”, was an ex­am­ple of its crit­i­cisms of the party.

“The slo­gan that they pulled out demon­strates the key point we are making that they are al­ways talk­ing about things hap­pen­ing in the fu­ture,” the source said. “Peo­ple want things fixed now.”

Sinn Féin and the Labour Party are set to make the re­tire­ment age an elec­tion is­sue.

Mary Lou McDon­ald will prom­ise to re­duce the re­tire­ment age from 66 to 65, while Brendan Howlin said he will stop it in­creas­ing to 67 next year if in govern­ment.

How­ever, the two main par­ties will seek to squeeze the smaller par­ties out of the cam­paign and force vot­ers to choose be­tween Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil on elec­tion day.

Speak­ing yes­ter­day, Mr Martin said he be­lieved the two par­ties were “neck and neck” in terms of pub­lic sup­port.

Mr Martin said there were “a lot of com­pet­i­tive elec­toral bat­tles in the dif­fer­ent con­stituen­cies” which will de­ter­mine the out­come of the elec­tion.

Fine Gael sources said they ex­pected the two par­ties to win up to 60pc of the over­all vote once the bal­lots are counted.

The Fianna Fáil leader also said he would “love” a head-to­head de­bate with Mr Varad­kar.

TDs from all par­ties are ex­pected to face-off on a se­ries of de­bates on RTÉ’s ‘Prime Time’, which will fo­cus on their port­fo­lios.

The first de­bate is due to take place on Thurs­day and it will see Mr Dono­hoe take on the other party fi­nance spokesper­sons on the econ­omy.

Mr Varad­kar con­firmed the date of the elec­tion at the end of yes­ter­day’s Cabi­net meet­ing. He told min­is­ters if he was re-elected to power, he would first talk to In­de­pen­dent TDs who “had the courage to go into govern­ment” with Fine Gael in 2016.

It means Mr Varad­kar would be likely to ask Trans­port Min­is­ter Shane Ross and Chil­dren’s Min­is­ter Kather­ine Zap­pone to re­join Fine Gael in govern­ment if they are re-elected.

Ms Zap­pone said she “would be happy to talk to any­one who wishes to speak with me”, while Mr Ross ex­pressed a de­sire to progress new leg­is­la­tion to over­haul how judges are ap­pointed which failed to be­come law be­fore the Dáil was dis­solved.

Af­ter he in­formed the Cabi­net, the Taoiseach called Mr Martin to in­form him of the elec­tion date. Mr Varad­kar then trav­elled to Áras an Uachtaráin to of­fi­cially seek Pres­i­dent Michael D Hig­gins’s per­mis­sion to dis­solve the Dáil

The elec­tion writ will be signed in the com­ing days and the elec­tion cam­paign will then have legally com­menced.

Can­di­dates will have seven days to put their names for­ward for elec­tion af­ter it has been signed.

Par­ties were last night still putting fi­nal touches to their elec­tion tick­ets with a num­ber of new can­di­dates ex­pected in the com­ing days.

There has also been a wave of re­tire­ments of se­nior po­lit­i­cal fig­ures, which means the land­scape in sev­eral key con­stituen­cies has dra­mat­i­cally changed ahead of polling.

PHOTO: MARK CONDREN

Sealed with hand­shake: Taoiseach Leo Varad­kar met with Pres­i­dent Michael D Hig­gins at Áras an Uachtaráin to dis­solve the Dáil.

PHOTO: DAMIEN EAGERS/PA

Elec­tion: Taoiseach Leo Varad­kar gives Pres­i­dent Michael D Hig­gins his re­quest to dis­solve the 32nd Dáil at Áras an Uachtaráin.

PHOTO: SAM BOAL/ ROLLINGNEW­S.IE

Front and cen­tre: Health Min­is­ter Si­mon Har­ris talk­ing to the me­dia out­side Govern­ment Build­ings.

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