The 26 County President, Michael D Higgins, has dissolved parliament at the request of Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who has called a general election.
Mr Kenny arrived at around 10.30 and quickly signed the proclamation formally dissolving parliament. Speaking in Leinster House, the Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader said that the next parliament would meet on Thursday March 10th and confirmed that the election would take place on February 26th.
The Taoiseach and Tanaiste and Labour leader, Joan Burton, posed for photographs on the steps of Government Buildings as their coalition government was dissolved. Kenny declared “this is not goodbye” as he headed for the Aras an Uachtaran, the President’s official residence in Dublin.
Burton told reporters she’s also confident of being back: “This is Seachtain Naoimh Bride [St Brigid’s Week] which is also the week of my own birthday. She was a very powerful woman and role model in early Irish history and I have to say I am absolutely delighted to be the first woman leader of the Labour party.”
The most recent opinion poll saw Fine Gael at 30 per cent and Labour at 7 per cent, Fianna Fail at 19 per cent, Sinn Fein at 21 per cent and Independents/Others at 23 per cent. Political commentators see little chance of any party holding an overall majority folowing the election, and speculation over future potential coalitions has dominated news coverage so far.
It is set to be a short election campaign officially, but the election announcement had been repeatedly delayed. When it came this morning, it finally brought an end to a faltering parliament as fewer and fewer TDs bothered to appear, having already begun canvassing in their constituencies. Dail proceedings were delayed on occasion because a quorum of TDs were not present for the normal 9.30am start.
In another controversy, some TDs had erected election posters in favoured locations ahead of the announcement, in contravention of littering laws.
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin complained that there was no opportunity to pay tribute to retiring members and Sinn Fein’s Caoimhghin O Caolain described it as “a pathetic end to a pathetic Dail”.
In a statement, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams outlined the steep cuts to education, welfare and health brought in by what he said were “some of the most reprehensible policy decisions ever made by a Government in this State”.
They have brought chaos to the lives of ordinary citizens, he said, and another generation had been forced into emigration.
“But now, for the first time since the foundation of this State, there is an opportunity for real change. I hope they choose for fairness and for genuine Republican politics. I hope they vote for Sinn Fein.”