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Irish prime minister seeks new mandate in February election

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar speaks with the media as he arrives for an EU summit in Brussels, Friday, Dec. 13, 2019. European Union leaders are gathering Friday to discuss Britain's departure from the bloc amid some relief that Prime Minister Boris Johnson has secured an election majority that should allow him to push the Brexit deal through parliament. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar speaks with the media as he arrives for an EU summit in Brussels, Friday, Dec. 13, 2019. European Union leaders are gathering Friday to discuss Britain's departure from the bloc amid some relief that Prime Minister Boris Johnson has secured an election majority that should allow him to push the Brexit deal through parliament. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco) (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

LONDON – Prime Minister Leo Varadkar sought a fresh mandate to govern Ireland on Tuesday, arguing he's the best person to represent Irish interests in the next phase of Brexit negotiations between the European Union and Britain.

The leader of the Fine Gael Party formally asked President Michael Higgins to dissolve the parliament, the Dáil, and set the election for Feb. 8. Varadkar described it as the ‘’right time" for a vote — given recent agreements on Brexit and power-sharing in Northern Ireland.

“As a nation, we have every reason to be hopeful about the future,'' he said in a Dublin speech. “We've modernized our society — marriage equality, women's rights, real progress in education, welfare and childcare. But, it's not enough. I know it's not enough.”

Though Varadkar framed the timing around future EU negotiations, his administration had been facing potential defeat in a vote of no confidence in Health Minister Simon Harris in the first week of next month. That prospect will now be averted.

The election is likely to revolve around the issues of housing and health care.

“People want their government to do much more,'' Varadkar said. “And I want us to do much more.”

The contest will be Varadkar's first election as prime minister. He succeeded Enda Kenny as Fine Gael leader in 2017.