Varad­kar calls Ir­ish elec­tion to try to re­store wan­ing power

The Daily Telegraph - - World News - ire­land Cor­re­spon­dent By John Walsh

IRE­LAND will go to the polls on Feb 8 af­ter the prime min­is­ter called a snap gen­eral elec­tion.

Leo Varad­kar yes­ter­day re­quested that the pres­i­dent dis­solve the cur­rent par­lia­ment to make way for an elec­tion, in which health, hous­ing, Brexit and cli­mate change are ex­pected to be the main is­sues.

The Fine Gael-led ad­min­is­tra­tion suf­fered a se­ries of by-elec­tion losses just be­fore Christ­mas that de­prived it of its work­ing ma­jor­ity.

The govern­ment is sup­ported by Fianna Fáil, the big­gest op­po­si­tion party, in a con­fi­dence and sup­ply ar­range­ment. It was set to lose a no-con­fi­dence mo­tion in Si­mon Har­ris, the health min­is­ter, if an elec­tion was not called.

If there is no out­right win­ner in the elec­tion, as is pre­dicted, it could take months to form a new govern­ment.

Opin­ion polls sug­gest that the next ad­min­is­tra­tion will be a coali­tion led by one of the two big­gest par­ties. Both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, which are proeu with cen­trist eco­nomic poli­cies, have ruled out any form of al­liance with Sinn Féin af­ter the elec­tion.

Fine Gael’s main ap­peal is its han­dling of Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions and the econ­omy.

Ire­land has had the high­est growth rate of any EU mem­ber state for the past four years, but the coun­try is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a chronic short­age of hous­ing, and chaos in the health sec­tor.

The party has been in of­fice since Fe­bru­ary 2011, when it came close to win­ning an over­all ma­jor­ity as vot­ers blamed Fianna Fáil for the eco­nomic cri­sis that forced the coun­try into an EU-IMF bail-out pro­gramme in 2010.

There has been cross-party con­sen­sus on the govern­ment’s po­si­tion on Brexit talks, so it is un­likely that a new ad­min­is­tra­tion will stray from the strat­egy adopted since 2016.

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