And on the 70th day the work of creation ends

Genesis of new government to be followed by adjournment of Dáil to allow dust to settle

John Halligan: sat on the side of a fountain with the Government Buildings behind him, looking conflicted. It reminded one of Princess Diana, when she sat on a bench with the Taj Mahal behind her. Photograph: Dave Meehan

They moved heaven and Earth, judicial appointments and Waterford Regional Hospital.

And this afternoon they will admire their great work of creation and President Michael D Higgins will sanctify it.

Behold the new government!

But there shall be no rest on the 70th day. Too much to do.


Although, in keeping with the Book of Standing Orders, Dáil Éireann is expected to adjourn for a week or so for things to settle.

This is to allow the new ministers time to fit into their briefs.

It’s a long-standing practice.

The final hours of a marathon government-formation process kept everyone guessing in Leinster House yesterday as rumour and counter-rumour washed around the corridors, working everyone up into a lather of confusion. The big question was whether Fine Gael would be able to capture enough Independent TDs to allow them form a minority administration under a newly established national facility to be known as Fianna Fáil.

Fianna Fáil, in its bounteous mercy, will then decide whether it will operate a “confidence and supply” operation or, as is suspected by some sceptics, a “confidence and destroy” strategy.

But that’s for a later day. Fine Gael will just have to dangle along for as long as possible in the hope that the second option isn’t triggered too soon.

In the morning the early indications were promising.

Another prize

Acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s negotiating team were making encouraging noises. For a time, there was even hope that the deal to secure a historic second consecutive term in office for a Fine Gael leader would be wrapped up by the afternoon and Enda would be back in business by teatime. Another prize was also in sight: Ireland looked set to become the Best Small Country in the World in Which to Return an Austerity Government.

If all goes to plan today, Enda will be cock of the walk the next time he goes to Brussels.

All day yesterday, his party worked to bottle the requisite amount of political free spirits to mollify Fianna Fáil while the elusive Endapendents chased in and out of the limelight.

Patience may have been running thin everywhere else, but the self-avowed lone rangers from the Rural Rump and the Urban Alliance were in no hurry to seal any deals.

But there were signs.

Finian McGrath sported a navy Crombie overcoat, favoured garment of the aspiring ministerial candidate.

The rural contingent went suspiciously quiet.

Shane Ross also went to ground later in the day, fuelling speculation that Sir Winston Churchtown was soon to be elevated to a peerage.

And by teatime, John Halligan, from whom all sorts of negative vibes had earlier been emanating, was filmed sitting on the side of a flowing fountain with the impressive backdrop of Government Buildings behind him, looking conflicted. It reminded one of Princess Diana, when she sat on a stone bench with the Taj Mahal in the background.

Very moving. And sure enough, not long afterwards, it leaked out that Halligan had moved back onside and in the direction of government with his Independent Alliance colleagues.

Mattie McGrath, as widely expected, didn’t last the pace.

On the way into negotiations at midday, he caused something of a stir at the gates into Government Buildings when he complained darkly about a negative Russian influence undermining his confidence in the process. However, when the audio was replayed, it transpired that fast talking Mattie was annoyed because the 69-day formation episode wasn’t happening slow enough for him.

“They’re rushin’ us!” he repeatedly complained. As he saw it, Fine Gael was trying to rush the Independents into a decision and he wasn’t happy.

He wasn’t entirely wrong. But how long did they need? Sensibly – and as sensitively as they could, given the precious nature of the people across from them at the table – the Fine Gael side decided to act. It’s wonderful how a deadline concentrates the mind.

Enda’s negotiators had had enough. Simon Coveney looked thoroughly fed up when accosted yet again at the gates for a prediction on when there might be an outcome, although this might have had more to do with a woman who joined the media throng and held out a banana among the microphones.

Back in the Dáil, the rest of the TDs marked time by debating the very wide topic of “Crime”. In concert with the rest of the country, everyone in Leinster House was of the view that it was a crime that we still hadn’t a government.

Free legal aid

One of the most interesting contributions came from Paul Murphy of AAA-PBP, who arrived in the afternoon to castigate deputies from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael who had criticised the fact that he was granted free legal aid for his forthcoming trial on a charge of falsely imprisoning the Tánaiste during a water protest.

He had to explain to them the difference between civil legal aid and criminal legal aid, and he more than adequately furnished the facts on why he was granted it for his criminal trial. It didn’t matter whether he was in receipt of a young worker’s wage or a TD’s entire salary, he would still qualify, and any other member of the Dáil would be similarly entitled to a grant.

Minister of State Damian English rather grudgingly thanked him for his explanation, which “helped a little bit” but he stressed that by accepting legal aid Murphy was “sending out the wrong message”.

Not unreasonably, the anti-austerity TD asked what was he expected to do? His costs were expected to be more than €100,000 and what happened in the court was standard practice.

But nobody was really listening, because word was out that Enda Kenny was expected in by 4.30pm to announce that the Dáil is to sit today to try for a fourth time to elect a taoiseach.

There was great excitement outside the chamber as the appointed time approached and various Fine Gael TDs were sent into the House to keep talking about crime so the debate didn’t run out of steam in the meantime.

Ushers gathered at the entrance to the chamber. They waited. The media waited. Then the ushers went away. Enda didn’t appear. The chief whip, Paul Kehoe, did the needful and the acting Taoiseach’s date with destiny was duly arranged.

The Endapendents, still closeted in Government Buildings, were reportedly livid.

But the game was up. And suddenly, the free spirits were bottled up, ready to be uncorked today.

The fun starts at midday.