2020 Irish general election

2020 Irish general election

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159 of 160 seats in Dáil Éireann[a]
80 seats needed for a majority
Opinion polls
Turnout 62.9% Decrease 2.2pp
  First party Second party Third party
Micheál Martin TD (cropped).jpg
Mary Lou McDonald (official portrait) 2020 (cropped).jpg
Leo Varadkar TD (cropped).jpg
Leader Micheál Martin Mary Lou McDonald Leo Varadkar
Party Fianna Fáil Sinn Féin Fine Gael
Leader since 26 January 2011 10 February 2018 2 June 2017
Leader's seat Cork South-Central Dublin Central Dublin West
Last election 44 seats, 24.3% 23 seats, 13.8% 50 seats, 25.5%
Seats before 45 22 47
Seats won 38[a] 37 35
Seat change Decrease 7 Increase 15 Decrease 12
Popular vote 484,320 535,595 455,584
Percentage 22.2% 24.5% 20.9%
Swing Decrease 2.1% Increase 10.7% Decrease 4.7%

  Fourth party Fifth party Sixth party
Eamon Ryan 2020 (cropped).jpg
Brendan Howlin (official portrait) 2020 (cropped).jpg
Róisín Shortall TD and Catherine Murphy TD cropped.jpg
Leader Eamon Ryan Brendan Howlin Catherine Murphy
Róisín Shortall
Party Green Labour Social Democrats
Leader since 27 May 2011 20 May 2016 15 July 2015
Leader's seat Dublin Bay South Wexford Kildare North
Dublin North-West
Last election 2 seats, 2.7% 7 seats, 6.6% 3 seats, 3.0%
Seats before 3 7 2
Seats won 12 6 6
Seat change Increase 9 Decrease 1 Increase 4
Popular vote 155,700 95,588 63,404
Percentage 7.1% 4.4% 2.9%
Swing Increase 4.4% Decrease 2.2% Decrease 0.1%

  Seventh party Eighth party Ninth party
Peadar Tóibín (official portrait) 2020 (cropped).jpg
Leader Collective leadership Peadar Tóibín None
Party PBP/Solidarity Aontú Inds. 4 Change
Leader since n/a 28 January 2019 n/a
Leader's seat n/a Meath West n/a
Last election 6 seats, 3.9% New party 4 seats, 1.5%
Seats before 6 1 1
Seats won 5 1 1
Seat change Decrease 1 Steady 0 Steady 0
Popular vote 57,420 40,917 8,421
Percentage 2.6% 1.9% 0.4%
Swing Decrease 1.3% New party Decrease 1.1%

2020 Irish general election - Results.svg
Results of the election by constituency.

Taoiseach before election

Leo Varadkar
Fine Gael

Taoiseach after election

Micheál Martin
Fianna Fáil

The 2020 Irish general election took place on Saturday 8 February, to elect the 33rd Dáil Éireann, the lower house of Ireland's parliament. The election was called following the dissolution of the 32nd Dáil by the president, at the request of the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, on 14 January 2020. All but one of the 160 seats were contested, with the Ceann Comhairle (speaker) being returned automatically. The members, Teachtaí Dála (TDs), were elected by single transferable vote in multi-seat constituencies. It was the first election since 1918 to be held on a weekend.

The election was an unprecedented three-way race, with the three largest parties each winning a share of the vote between 20% and 25%. Fianna Fáil finished with 38 seats (including the Ceann Comhairle). Sinn Féin made significant gains; it received the most first-preference votes, and won 37 seats, the party's best result since 1923. Fine Gael, the governing party led by Varadkar, came third both in seats (35) and in first-preference votes. International news outlets have described the result as a historic break from the two-party system, as it was the first time in almost a century that neither Fianna Fáil nor Fine Gael won the most votes. Furthermore, the combined vote share of the two traditional main parties fell to a historic low.[1][2] The leaders of those parties had long ruled out forming a coalition government with Sinn Féin.

The members of the 33rd Dáil first met on 20 February. The incumbent Ceann Comhairle, Seán Ó Fearghaíl of Fianna Fáil, was re-elected, reducing to 37 the number of Fianna Fáil TDs. Four candidates were proposed for the position of Taoiseach, but none were successful. Varadkar formally resigned as Taoiseach that day, but he and the other members of the government continued to carry out their duties until the appointment of their successors.[3] Negotiations to form a new government continued through to June, and a Programme for Government agreed by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party was published on 15 June 2020.[4][5] On 26 June, all three parties voted to enter government under the Programme for Government. On 27 June, Micheál Martin was appointed as Taoiseach and formed a new government. The parties agreed that in December 2022, Varadkar would serve again as Taoiseach.[6]


Since the 2016 Irish general election, Fine Gael had led a minority government with the support of Independent TDs, including the Independent Alliance. It relied on a confidence and supply agreement with Fianna Fáil.

On 3 December 2019, a motion of no confidence in the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Eoghan Murphy proposed by Catherine Murphy for the Social Democrats was defeated, with 53 votes in favour to 56 votes against and 35 registered abstentions.[7] On 9 January 2020, Independent TD Michael Collins called for a motion of no confidence in the Minister for Health Simon Harris.[8] On 14 January, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar sought a dissolution of the Dáil which was granted by the president, with the 33rd Dáil to convene on 20 February at 12 noon.[9][10] The election was set for 8 February, the first time a general election was held on a Saturday since 1918.[11][12]

Electoral system

Dáil constituencies used in the 2020 election.

Members of Dáil Éireann known as TDs (Dáil deputies) were elected by single transferable vote (STV) from 39 constituencies with between three and five seats. Voters complete a paper ballot, numbering candidates 1, 2, 3, etc. in order of their preference. Ballot boxes are sent to the constituency count centre after polls close and are counted the following morning. Voters may mark as many or as few preferences as they wish. Each ballot is initially credited to its first-preference candidate but may be transferred on later counts to the next available preference where the first preference candidate is elected or eliminated.[13] As the outgoing Ceann Comhairle, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, did not announce his retirement, he was automatically returned, and the remaining 159 of the 160 seats were up for election.[14]

Constituency boundary changes

A Constituency Commission, convened in July 2016 under the provisions of the Electoral Act 1997 with High Court judge Robert Haughton as chair, made recommendations on changes to constituency boundaries after publication of initial population data from the 2016 census.[15][16] The commission had some discretion but was constitutionally bound to allow no more than a ratio of 30,000 people per elected member, and was required by law to recommend constituencies of three, four or five seats, and to avoid – as far as was practicable – breaching county boundaries. The Commission report, released on 27 June 2017, recommended an increase in the number of TDs from 158 to 160 elected in 39 constituencies.[17][18] These changes were implemented by the Electoral (Amendment) (Dáil Constituencies) Act 2017.[19][20] The election of the 33rd Dáil was therefore held using the new boundaries, for 160 seats.

Retiring incumbents

The following members of the 32nd Dáil did not seek re-election.


The campaign officially began after the dissolution of Dáil Éireann on 14 January 2020 and lasted until polling day on 8 February 2020. the Polling was just over a week after the United Kingdom (which includes Northern Ireland) withdrew from the European Union, making it the first major election to be held within the EU after Brexit. The election took place on a Saturday for the first time since the 1918 election.[39] Leo Varadkar said that the change of day was to prevent school closures (many schools in Ireland are used as polling stations) and to make it easy for third-level students and those working away from home to vote.[40]

Nomination of candidates closed on Wednesday, 22 January. A record number of women were nominated, with 162 of the 531 candidates.[41] This was the first Irish general election in which there was a female candidate running in every constituency. If a party does not have a minimum of 30% male and 30% female candidates, it forfeits half of their state funding. At close of nominations, Fine Gael had 30.5% female candidates, Fianna Fáil had 31%, Labour had 32%, Sinn Féin had 33%, People Before Profit had 38%, the Green Party had 41%, and the Social Democrats had 57%, all passing the quota.[42]

Parties contesting a general election for the first time included Aontú, the Irish Freedom Party, the National Party and RISE (as part of S–PBP).

Voter registration via the Supplementary Register of Voters closed on 23 January, with very high registration taking place on the last day – Dublin City Council, for example, reporting 3,500 registrations on the final day allowed, and a total of 14,000 additional registrations, reported to be twice the normal amount for a general election.[43]

On 3 February 2020, the returning officer for Tipperary cancelled the writ of election there, as required by Section 62 of the Electoral Act 1992, after the death of candidate Marese Skehan.[44] However, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government formed a view that the 1992 provision breached the constitutional requirement that elections take place within 30 days of a Dáil dissolution, so on 5 February he issued a Special Difficulty Order allowing the election to proceed on the same date as other constituencies.[45][46][47] Skehan's name remained on the ballot paper.[48][49]

Party manifestos and slogans

Party/group Manifesto (external link) Other slogan(s) Refs
Fine Gael A future to Look Forward to "Building a Republic of Opportunity, Taking Ireland Forward Together." [50][51]
Fianna Fáil An Ireland for all / Éire do chách [50][51]
Sinn Féin Giving workers & families a break "Time for change", "Standing up for Irish unity" [50][52]
Labour Party Building an equal society [50]
S–PBP[c] People Before Profit[c] Planet Before Profit Archived 3 February 2020 at the Wayback Machine "Socialism for the 21st century" [53]
Solidarity[c] "Real change, not spare change" [54]
RISE[c] [55]
Social Democrats Hope for better. Vote for better. "Invest in better" [50]
Green Party Want Green? Vote Green! "The future belongs to all of us" [50][56]
Aontú The political system is broken. Let's fix it. "Think outside the political cartel" [57]

Television debates

2020 Irish general election debates
Date Broadcaster Moderator(s) Participants —   Name  Participant    N  Party not invited/did not participate  Notes
22 Jan Virgin One Pat Kenny Varadkar Martin N N N N N N [58]
27 Jan RTÉ One Claire Byrne Varadkar Martin McDonald Howlin Boyd Barrett Ryan Shortall N [59]
30 Jan Virgin One Ivan Yates
Matt Cooper
Varadkar Martin McDonald Howlin Barry Ryan Murphy N [60]
4 Feb RTÉ One David McCullagh
Miriam O'Callaghan
Varadkar Martin McDonald N N N N N
6 Feb RTÉ One David McCullagh
Miriam O'Callaghan
N N N Howlin Coppinger Ryan Shortall Tóibín
6 Feb Virgin Media Ivan Yates
Matt Cooper
Coveney Calleary Doherty N N N N N Debate among Deputy Leaders
6 Feb[61] TG4 Páidí Ó Lionáird Kyne Calleary Ó Laoghaire N Ó Ceannabháin Garvey Ó Tuathail Mhic Gib Debate in Irish[62]

The first leaders' debate took place on Virgin Media One on 22 January, but was restricted to Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin.[63]

A leaders' debate featuring seven party leaders/representatives took place on RTÉ One on Monday 27 January, from NUI Galway.[64][65]

On 27 January, RTÉ published an article explaining its rationale as to whom it invited to appear in televised leadership debates.[66] Aontú announced that it would seek a High Court injunction in order to prevent the broadcast of the leaders' debate scheduled for the same day but later in the day they announced that they would not proceed with the action.[67]

A further RTÉ debate was scheduled for 4 February, again on RTÉ One, and featuring only Varadkar and Martin. Mary Lou McDonald, leader of Sinn Féin, had objected to her exclusion, and Sinn Féin threatened legal action if it was excluded from this debate.[68] On 3 February, RTÉ announced that it had invited McDonald to participate in the final debate, in part due to Sinn Féin's standing in recent opinion polls, and Sinn Féin confirmed that it would accept the invitation.[69][70]

A final debate between the leader of smaller parties took place on 6 February on RTÉ One.

Opinion polls

Opinion polls on voting intentions were conducted regularly. Polls were published on an approximately monthly basis by The Sunday Business Post (which uses the Red C polling company) and The Sunday Times (which used the Behaviour and Attitudes polling company for all of its polls since 2016 until its final poll prior to the election, for which it used Panelbase).

Less frequent polls were published by The Irish Times, Sunday Independent, Irish Mail on Sunday, RTÉ News, and others.

The chart below depicts the results of opinion polls since the previous general election.

Ireland Opinion Polls 2020.png


Map showing the party winning the most first-preference votes in each constituency.

Polls opened at 07:00 UTC and closed at 22:00 UTC. The total poll was down by 2.2% to 62.9% compared to the previous election, despite it being held on a Saturday. However, severe weather warnings were in place over much of the country due to Storm Ciara.

Counting of the votes commenced at 09:00 UTC on 9 February and concluded at 23:59 UTC on 10 February, with Galway East being the first constituency to report and Cavan-Monaghan being the final constituency to report.[71][72]

The results of the election showed a close contest between three parties. Sinn Féin won 37 seats, a gain of fifteen over the previous election. Fianna Fáil also won 37 seats, eight fewer than they had had before. Fine Gael, the party of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, won 35 seats, twelve fewer than they had had. Among the smaller parties, the Green Party showed the largest gains, increasing from three to twelve seats, a gain of nine over the previous election. In terms of popular vote, despite their close second-place finish in terms of parliamentary seats, Sinn Féin received the most first-preference votes nationwide, though no single party secured more than 25% of the first-preference votes, nor more than 25% of the seats. According to Dublin City University political scientist Eoin O'Malley, it was the most fragmented Dáil ever, with the effective number of parties at 5.95.[73]

Seán Ó Fearghaíl was returned automatically as outgoing Ceann Comhairle; as he was a Fianna Fáil member, this gave the party 38 TDs. That number dropped to 37 when Ó Fearghaíl was re-elected as Ceann Comhairle on the first day of the 33rd Dáil.[74]

Journalists commented on the effects of Sinn Féin's late surge and unexpectedly high first-preference vote. John Drennan listed eleven constituencies where it might have won another seat had it run an extra candidate.[75] Marie O'Halloran observed that Sinn Féin transfers affected the outcome of 21 constituencies, favouring other left-wing parties.[76] Sean Murray noted that Solidarity–People Before Profit benefited most from Sinn Féin transfers.[77]

The Social Democrats had their best-ever result, with 6 seats; they attributed this to focusing their efforts on winnable seats rather than fielding candidates in every constituency.[78]

The Green Party also had their best-ever result, with 12 seats, reflecting increased interest in environmentalism and climate change in Ireland.[79][80]

Minor far-right and anti-immigration parties (the National Party, Irish Freedom Party and Anti-Corruption Ireland) fared very poorly, winning less than two percent wherever they stood. However, some independent politicians who had expressed anti-immigration views were elected, like Verona Murphy and Noel Grealish.[81][82]

33rd Irish general election – 8 February 2020 [83] [84] [85] [86] [87] [88]
Dáil Éireann after 2020 GE.svg
Party Leader First-preference votes Seats
Votes % FPv[d] Swing (pp) Cand.
2016 Out. Elected
Sinn Féin Mary Lou McDonald 535,595 24.5 Increase10.7 42 23 22
37 / 160 (23%)
Fianna Fáil Micheál Martin 484,315 22.2 Decrease2.2 84 44 45
37 / 160 (23%)
Fine Gael Leo Varadkar 455,568 20.9 Decrease4.7 82 49 47
35 / 160 (22%)
Green Eamon Ryan 155,695 7.1 Increase4.4 39 2 3
12 / 160 (8%)
Labour Brendan Howlin 95,582 4.4 Decrease2.2 31 7 7
6 / 160 (4%)
Social Democrats Catherine Murphy
Róisín Shortall
63,397 2.9 Decrease0.1 20 3 2
6 / 160 (4%)

People Before Profit

Collective leadership 57,420






5 / 160 (3%)
3 / 160 (1.9%)
1 / 160 (0.6%)
1 / 160 (0.6%)

Aontú Peadar Tóibín 41,575 1.9 new 26 New 1
1 / 160 (0.6%)
Inds. 4 Change None 8,421 0.4 Decrease1.1 4 4 1
1 / 160 (0.6%)
Irish Freedom Hermann Kelly 5,495 0.3 new 11 New 0
0 / 160 (0%)
Renua Vacant 5,473 0.3 Decrease1.9 11 0 0
0 / 160 (0%)
National Party Justin Barrett 4,773 0.2 new 10 New 0
0 / 160 (0%)
Irish Democratic Ken Smollen 2,611 0.1 Increase0.1 1 0 0
0 / 160 (0%)
Workers' Party Michael Donnelly 1,195 0.1 Decrease0.1 4 0 0
0 / 160 (0%)
United People Jeff Rudd 43 0.0 new 1 New 0
0 / 160 (0%)
Independent 266,353 12.2 Decrease3.7[e] 125 19[e] 22[e]
19 / 160 (12%)
Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl N/A N/A N/A 1 1 1
1 / 160 (0.6%)
Total Valid 2,183,489 99.20
Spoilt votes 17,703 0.80
Total 2,201,192 100 552[90] 158 157[b] 160 Increase2
Registered voters/Turnout 3,509,969 62.71

Voting summary

First-preference vote
Sinn Féin
Fianna Fáil
Fine Gael
Social Democrats
Solidarity–People Before Profit
Independents 4 Change

Seats summary

Dáil seats
Fianna Fáil
Sinn Féin
Fine Gael
Social Democrats
Solidarity–People Before Profit
Independents 4 Change
Ceann Comhairle

TDs who lost their seats

Party Seats lost Name Constituency Other offices held Year elected
Fianna Fáil
Bobby Aylward Carlow–Kilkenny 2007[f]
John Brassil Kerry 2016
Declan Breathnach Louth 2016
Malcolm Byrne Wexford 2019
Pat Casey Wicklow 2016
Shane Cassells Meath West 2016
Lisa Chambers Mayo 2016
John Curran Dublin Mid-West 2002[g]
Timmy Dooley Clare 2007
Pat "the Cope" Gallagher Donegal Leas-Cheann Comhairle 2016[h]
Eugene Murphy Roscommon–Galway 2016
Margaret Murphy O'Mahony Cork South-West 2016
Kevin O'Keeffe Cork East 2016
Fiona O'Loughlin Kildare South 2016
Frank O'Rourke Kildare North 2016
Eamon Scanlon Sligo–Leitrim 2007[i]
Fine Gael
Pat Breen Clare Minister of State for Trade, Employment, Business, EU Digital Single Market and Data Protection 2002
Catherine Byrne Dublin South-Central Minister of State for Health Promotion 2007
Marcella Corcoran Kennedy Laois–Offaly 2011
Michael W. D'Arcy Wexford Minister of State at the Department of Finance 2007[j]
Pat Deering Carlow–Kilkenny 2011
Regina Doherty Meath East Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection 2011
Andrew Doyle Wicklow Minister of State for Food, Forestry and Horticulture 2007
Seán Kyne Galway West Government Chief Whip 2011
Mary Mitchell O'Connor Dún Laoghaire Minister of State for Higher Education 2011
Tom Neville Limerick County 2016
Kate O'Connell Dublin Bay South 2016
Noel Rock Dublin North-West 2016
Joan Burton Dublin West 1992[k]
Jan O'Sullivan Limerick City 1998
Ruth Coppinger Dublin West 2014
Séamus Healy Tipperary 2000[l]
Shane Ross Dublin Rathdown Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport 2011
Kevin Moran Longford–Westmeath Minister of State for the Office of Public Works and Flood Relief 2016
Katherine Zappone Dublin South-West Minister for Children and Youth Affairs 2016
Total 35

Government formation

As there are 160 members of Dáil Éireann (including the Ceann Comhairle who casts a vote only in the case of a tie), 80 TDs are needed to form a governing coalition. A smaller group could form a minority government if they can negotiate a confidence and supply agreement with another party.

During the campaign, the leaders of both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil ruled out forming a coalition government with Sinn Féin.[91] Some in Fianna Fáil were reported to favour going into coalition with Sinn Féin over renewing an arrangement with Fine Gael. Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald announced her intention to try to form a coalition government without either Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil, but she did not rule out a coalition with either party.[91] After the results came in on 10–11 February, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar continued to rule out a Fine Gael coalition with Sinn Féin, while Micheál Martin changed tack and left open the possibility of a Fianna Fáil–Sinn Féin coalition or a "grand coalition" with Fine Gael.[92] On 12 February, Varadkar conceded that Fine Gael would likely go into opposition. Varadkar argued that since Sinn Féin finished with the highest vote, it had the responsibility to build a coalition that allows it to keep its campaign promises, and that Fine Gael was "willing to step back" to allow Sinn Féin to do so.[93]

Sinn Féin have also stated an intention to form a broad left coalition; combined, left-leaning parties have 67 seats (37 Sinn Féin, 12 Green, 6 Labour, 6 Social Democrats, 5 Solidarity–PBP, and 1 Independents 4 Change), but other parties of the left have raised doubts about such a prospect. In addition, Sinn Féin would need the support of at least 13 independents (out of 19 total) to form a government.[92][94]

A Fianna Fáil–Fine Gael grand coalition would have 72 seats and so would need support from smaller parties or independents to form a government. A Fianna Fáil–Sinn Féin coalition would have 74 seats, which would also require smaller party or independent support.[95] These three options in an opinion poll the week after the election received respective support from 26%, 26%, and 19% of voters, with 15% preferring another election.[96]

On 20 February, Varadkar resigned, but he and the other members of the government continued to carry out their duties pending the appointment of their successors. It was reported that Fine Gael was prepared to go into opposition.[97] On 11 March, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael entered detailed talks in order to establish a grand coalition, potentially with the Green Party, and deal with the COVID-19 pandemic in Ireland.[98][99] As of 17 March, those talks were still scheduled for later that week. However, the Green Party suggested that it would not join such a coalition, preferring a national unity government.[100] On 4 April, it was reported that FF and FG were making progress on their talks, and that the Labour Party was preferred to the Green Party as the third coalition partner due to internal divisions in the Green Party. However, the Labour Party stated that it preferred to go into opposition. Another option would be a grand coalition which could reach a majority with the support of independents, but such a coalition would be fragile. Some Fine Gael politicians predicted another election in September, which Fianna Fáil was eager to avoid.[101]

On 14 April, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael reached a coalition agreement, which includes a rotation for taoiseach. However, they lack a majority and need to bring other parties or independents into the coalition in order to form a government.[102] The Greens required an annual 7% cut to carbon emissions, among other demands, to participate as the third part of government formation; these demands did not include Green leader Eamon Ryan participating in the taoiseach rotation scheme, despite rumours to the contrary.[103][104][105] The Social Democrats, Aontú, and technical groups of independents also expressed varying degrees of interest in entering into government formation negotiations with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.[106][107][108][109]

A draft programme for government was agreed between Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and the Green Party on 15 June 2020. It was determined that the position of Taoiseach would rotate between Micheál Martin and Leo Varadkar.[4] The programme needed the approval by each party's membership. Fianna Fáil and the Green Party require a simple majority and a 67% majority, respectively, in a postal ballot of all members, while Fine Gael uses an electoral college system, with its parliamentary party making up 50% of the electorate, constituency delegates 25%, councillors 15% and the party's executive council filling the final 10%.[110]

On 26 June, Fine Gael voted 80%, Fianna Fáil voted 74% and the Green Party voted 76% in favour of the programme. Clare Bailey, the leader of the Green Party in Northern Ireland - a branch of the Irish Green Party - publicly rejected the idea of the Greens being part of the coalition deal with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. She said the coalition deal proposed the "most fiscally conservative arrangements in a generation".[111] The coalition deal allowed for a government to be formed on 27 June, with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin serving as Taoiseach until December 2022.[112][113] Subsequently, the Dáil voted on 27 June to nominate Micheál Martin as Taoiseach. He was appointed afterward by President Michael D. Higgins and announced his cabinet later that day.[114]


Pollster/client(s) Date(s)
Broad left coalition Fianna Fáil–Fine Gael Fianna Fáil–Sinn Féin New election Lead
Sunday Business Post/Red C 12–14 Feb 3,700 26% 26% 19% 15% Tie

See also