A Long Road Ahead? Here’s what happened when the 33rd Dáil Convened Today

  • This afternoon the 33rd Dáil convened for the first time, with 48 newly elected and 112 returning TDs.
  • No leader secured the required number of votes to become Taoiseach today, and there are differing arguments as to how long talks on the formation of a new government will last.
  • Fianna Fáil TD Seán Ó Fearghaíl beat independent Denis Naughten and was re-elected as Ceann Comhairle, meaning Fianna Fáil’s seats are now on a level with those of Sinn Féin at 37.

Today the 33rd Dáil convened with the agenda of electing the Ceann Comhairle and seeing through the Taoiseach nomination process, which entails a vote among all TDs on candidates put forward for Taoiseach.

None of the four leaders that were nominated to become Taoiseach – Mary Lou McDonald of Sinn Féin, Micheál Martin of Fianna Fáil, Leo Varadkar of Fine Gael or Eamon Ryan of the Green Party – conjured up the 80 votes required to win. This is due to the lack of success thus far in inter-party discussions to form a coalition or come to any sort of agreement on how the next government should look following the general election on February 8th, which returned no clear majority. The results of the nomination process instead simply give an indication of the level of support for the main parties’ respective candidates among TDs.

Leo Varadkar received 36 votes in favour of his becoming Taoiseach, Micheál Martin received 41 votes, Mary Lou McDonald received 45 votes and Eamon Ryan received 12 votes. With none hitting the 80 vote threshold, the Dáil will now be suspended and Leo Varadkar will remain as a caretaker Taoiseach.

Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald benefitted from the support of 5 Solidarity People Before Profit TDs and a handful of left-leaning independents. The Social Democrats chose to abstain from voting for any candidate for Taoiseach, criticizing the process as a “popularity contest”, which is a dent to Mary Lou McDonald’s numbers as she would have been hoping to secure the support of all smaller left-leaning parties. However her party will surely be buoyed by today’s result as they enter into the coming negotiations, however long they may last.

In the election for Ceann Comhairle, Fianna Fáil TD Seán Ó Fearghaíl beat independent Denis Naughten and was re-elected, meaning Fianna Fáil’s seats are on a level with those of Sinn Féin at 37. Fianna Fáil TD Michael McGrath stated that he believes the loss of the seat will have little impact on their ability to play a key role in the formation of a government.

Fine Gael, with their 35 seats, appear intent on leading the opposition in the next government, with TD Richard Bruton suggesting that such an outcome would present an opportunity for the party to reflect on their weaknesses. TD Simon Harris reiterated his party’s position of ruling out any potential coalition with Sinn Féin, and stated that the impetus to form a government was on “the party that has won the most votes – Sinn Féin – and the party that won the most seats – Fianna Fáil.” Leo Varadkar, however, has not ruled out the prospect of his party forming an alliance with Fianna Fáil.

Micheál Martin believes that talks in relation to the formation of a new government could last up to two months, which has recent precedent given the 70 day wait for the formation of a new government in 2016. Fellow Fianna Fáil TD Michael McGrath is more optimistic and suggests it is more a matter of weeks. Fianna Fáil maintain that they have ruled out a coalition government with Sinn Féin. Sinn Féin, however, suggest they are open to negotiating with all parties.

Meetings between party leaders will intensify in the coming days as the Dáil is suspended and discussions on how to form a government begin in earnest. There remain numerous possibilities on the outcome of such talks. There may be a minority government made up of left-leaning parties led by Sinn Féin, a minority Fianna Fáil and Green Party coalition bolstered by a confidence-and-supply agreement with Fine Gael, or perhaps a Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael alliance. It’ll be a long road of debate and compromise and intra-party bickering. And if discussions end up fruitless, we may be headed for another general election.

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