HEALTH, housing and homelessness will be the key battleground areas for the election, according to Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin.
Speculation mounted yesterday that the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, would call an election within days, after he said on the RTÉ 1 Radio This Week programme that he had a date but could not yet announce it due to protocol.
He said he had to complete some outstanding business on European and British/Irish affairs and inform cabinet colleagues and rival politicians in the Dail first.
However, it is widely expected that the election will be in early February.
Deputy Martin said there was anger among the electorate during the recent Cork North Central by election about the area of health in particular. He expects this area to be a key one with voters over the next few weeks.
He outlined: "During the by election, people were very angry that elderly people have to go to Belfast for cataract operations."
He also highlighted the overcrowding situation in the emergency department of Cork University Hospital, and a delay in children's health appointments as indicators of a worsening health system under the current government.
Deputy Martin said Mr Varadkar appeared in yesterday's interview to be complacent about issues such as health and housing.
He said: "I don't think the Taoiseach is in command of these issues."
He highlighted that homelessness has not improved, adding: "We have seen murders in respect of the homeless people. Homeless people do not feel safe in hostels."
Timmy Hourihane was murdered in Cork in October at the Mardyke, where he was sleeping in a tent. And Cork Simon service user Francis "Frankie" Dunne's dismembered body was found in the grounds of a house on Boreenmanna Road on December 28.
In yesterday's interview, Mr Varadkar said: "I have made a decision but there is unfinished business to do which I want to get done and also there is some respect and protocol around this and I would like to speak to the cabinet and to leaders of the opposition."
He said the Dail would reconvene on Wednesday.
Dissolution of the Dail this week would mean that the government would not have to face into a No Confidence motion in Minister for Health Simon Harris. Such a motion would likely be defeated, particularly as Fianna Fail's John McGuinness has indicated that he would break ranks with his party in voting in favour of the No Confidence motion. The government barely survived a vote of No Confidence in Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy in recent weeks, with just three votes to spare.
Having previously favoured a summer election, the Taoiseach yesterday said that circumstances have changed.
He outlined: "We have a deal on Brexit, in many ways that was the big job of this government, our magnum opus to secure a deal on Brexit. We have the institutions up and running in Northern Ireland which the Tanaiste (Simon Coveney) and I have put a huge amount of work in to, particularly the Tanaiste. And also the arithmetic in the Dail has changed and that's the reality of that."
He added that parties would be making claims about his government's fiscal record in the "next couple of weeks".