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  • Posters of candidates for the upcoming general election are seen in Dublin, Ireland, Jan. 15, 2020.

    Posters of candidates for the upcoming general election are seen in Dublin, Ireland, Jan. 15, 2020. | Photo: Xinhua

Published 16 January 2020

The election happens in the shadow of Brexit and the EU summit

All the major political parties in Ireland have geared up their election campaigns following the announcement by Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on Tuesday that the country's general election will be held on Feb. 8.

Leo Varadkar and his cabinet will continue to exercise their duties until the new government is formed after the election, according to Irish laws.

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Shortly after the announcement of the election date on Tuesday, numerous numbers of posters of candidates, either party-fielded or independent, were seen being set up in various constituencies across the country, particularly in the capital city of Dublin.

Some candidates even broke the rule to have their posters set up in public places earlier than the time they were allowed to do so.

On Wednesday, Nearly all the political parties in the country held their election campaign launches in various locations in Dublin or elsewhere in the country, which were attended by their party leaders and other heavyweight members.

Varadkar-led ruling party Fine Gael held its party campaign launch on Wednesday morning at a plant set up under the Fine Gael-led government in County Monaghan, which employs over 600 people, making it one of the largest employers in the country's border region.

County Monaghan is one of the five counties that border with Britain's Northern Ireland and is considered to be one of the most Brexit-impacted areas in the country.

The well-calculated selection of the venue is intended to send a clear message to voters that only Fine Gael is in a position to deliver more and better jobs by getting the best Brexit deal as the party claimed in its slogan.

Addressing the launch ceremony which was attended by some of the most important members of his cabinet such as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Coveney and Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe, Varadkar criticized an Irish member of the European Parliament from Finna Fail, the strongest rival for Fine Gael in the upcoming election, for his intention to vote against the European Union (EU) Withdrawal Agreement. He called Micheal Martin, leader of Fianna Fail, the largest opposition party in Ireland, to explain this.

He also said that he wanted a new government to be in place before an EU summit in March, adding that his party offers the people of Ireland "the right team" to bring Ireland forward.

On Thursday, Varadkar also unveiled an ambitious economic plan of his party for the next five years at an event held in Dublin, under which he promised to create an additional 200,000 jobs if he is re-elected.

He also promised responsible management of the Irish economy and to end the cycle of economic boom and bust in the country in addition to increased investment in infrastructure.

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe who attended the event said that better jobs would require the best Brexit deal and only Fine Gael has the team in place to achieve this.

At an election campaign launch held in Dublin on Wednesday, Martin fiercely attacked Fine Gael for its failure in addressing the housing and health crises in the country and promised voters a change which would deliver action instead of lip services in dealing with such issues, which have caused repeated public protests in the country over the last couple of years.

Fianna Fail's attack on Fine Gael-led government for its failure in handling the housing and health crises were echoed by all the other parties on their Wednesday's party campaign launches.

Mary Lou McDonald, leader of Sinn Fein, the third-largest political party in Ireland, said at her party's campaign launch that Sinn Fein would build the biggest public housing program in the history of the country and reduce rents by up to 1,500 euros (close to 1,700 U.S. dollars) a year through the introduction of a tax credit by renters as part of its housing plan.

She also promised to halt planned increases to the age at which workers are entitled to a pension and bring the pension age back to 65 years.

Brendan Howlin, leader of the Irish fourth largest political party Labour Party, said at his party's campaign launch in Dublin that one of the most important issues that Ireland faces is the issue of homelessness and the provision of affordable housing.

He said that "We have a plan to build 80,000 affordable and social houses on the land the public already own."

Other smaller parties such as Solidarity-People Before Profit (SPBP), Green Party and Social Democrats also unveiled their campaign plans on Wednesday.

In the upcoming election, candidates will vie for 159 seats in the Dail, the lower house of the Irish parliament, with one seat to be automatically renewed for the speaker of the last Dail if he has no intention to quit the role. The number of seats in the Dail has been increased from the current 158 to 160 due to the increase of the population in the country since 2016 when the last Dail was formed.

The last or 32rd Dail was dissolved by Irish President Michael D. Higgins on the same day when the election date was announced.

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