Political Editor, Fergus Carroll, breaks down the Irish General Election, in a first-part guide to #GE16.
On Thursday morning Taoiseach Enda Kenny ended weeks of mounting speculation when he announced that the general election will be held on 26 February. The announcement was made in a video posted to the Taoiseach’s Facebook and Twitter accounts as he made the short trip from Dáil Éireann to Áras An Uachtaráin to seek dissolution of the 31st Dáil.
Over the next three weeks posters will be erected, canvassers will knock on doors, and promises will be made so as to secure first preference votes when the general public head to polling stations to cast their votes. Whether you are a first time voter, or in need of having your memory refreshed, this article will provide a brief guide to the forthcoming election.
To begin, some small changes have been made since the last general election in 2011. The most visible change is that there has been a decrease in the number of TDs who will be elected to the Dáil. In 2011 the Irish public elected 166 TDs but when the 32nd Dáil meets for the first time on 10 March there will be 158 TDs in attendance. While some are retiring, such as Olivia Mitchell of Fine Gael, and Eamon Gilmore and Pat Rabbitte of Labour, there remains a real risk that some high profile TDs will be left without a seat and many onlookers will follow the fortunes of Lucinda Creighton and Averil Power, who since the last election have left Fine Gael and Fianna Fail to stand for Renua and as an Independent respectively, with heightened interest. The only politician unconcerned in advance of the election is Seán Barrett, who in his capacity as Ceann Comhairle, is automatically re-elected.
The number of electoral constituencies has also been decreased – from 43 to 40 – and there have been some notable boundary changes, with corresponding transfers of voters to new constituencies, throughout the country. Evidence of this change can be seen in Dublin where the old three seat constituencies of North Central and North East have merged to form a new five seater called Dublin Bay North. In addition, changes have been made to the number of seats allocated to many constituencies; as a result the upcoming election will have 11 fiver seat, 16 four seat, and 13 three seat constituencies in the upcoming election.
Whereas only Irish citizens who are 18 years of age are eligible to vote in a referendum, such as last year’s Marriage Equality referendum, any Irish or British citizen who is resident in Ireland and 18 years of age or over is eligible to vote in a general election. For those who are on the Register of Electors a polling card will be mailed to your home in advance of 26 February. This should then be presented at your polling station on the day of the vote. You may also be required to prove your identity, so bring a passport or driver’s licence in order to prove eligibility to vote on the day.
You should check to confirm that you are already registered to vote. If not registered, it is not too late to do so. You can apply to be placed on a supplementary list which will enable you to vote on 26 February if you submit a RFA2 form to your local council by 11 February. This form can be found on www.checktheregister.ie alongside forms to apply for a postal vote if you have recently changed address.
Now that the Dáil has been dissolved, the election campaign can begin in earnest. The clearest sign of this is that election posters will be erected all over the country on nearly every lamp-post, with space seemingly at a premium. The erection of these posters is only permitted once the Dáil has been dissolved – a fact that may come as a surprise to some readers since it appeared election posters had already been put up in some areas. Rather than breaking the law, it appears these posters are a clever or cheeky (depending on your disposition) way for candidates to get their face on show early. One example of this tactic comes courtesy of Labour’s Kevin Humphreys. The Dublin Bay South candidate erected posters around the capital announcing a 1916 Rising walking tour. The fact that these posters closely resemble those that will be put up over the coming days is hardly coincidental!
Finally, now that the election campaign is officially underway the volume of canvassers coming knocking on doors will only increase. As the 26 February draws nearer this may become tiresome for some, but remember that this is a great opportunity to question or indeed grill your local candidates to help you make up your mind on how you to cast your vote. In the months and years to come, you may yet regret that you had not made more of these opportunities.
This is the first in a series of articles on The City regarding the 2016 General Election. The Guide to the Irish Election series will be continued over the election campaign with posts explaining Ireland’s voting system – PR STV – and a guide to the Seanad election.
BY FERGUS CARROLL
(Photo Credit: Gary Boggan. Image sourced through Flickr).