Micheál Martin elected Taoiseach as head of coalition

Nine Independent TDs support new Government as Dáil sits in Convention Centre due to social distancing requirements

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has been elected Taoiseach by 93 votes to 63, with three abstentions, in a historic Dáil vote which has taken place in Dublin’s Convention Centre. Video: Oireachtas TV

 

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has been elected Taoiseach by 93 votes to 63, with three abstentions, in a historic Dáil vote which has taken place in Dublin’s Convention Centre.

The new Taoiseach had the support of nine Independent TDs as well as his own party and his coalition partners Fine Gael and the Green Party.

Mr Martin has pledged that “recovery and renewal” will be at the centre of the new Government’s priorities.

Addressing the Dáil, assembled in the Convention Centre to allow for social distancing because of the coronavirus pandemic, Mr Martin said Covid-19 “is the fastest moving recession ever to hit our country and to overcome it we must act with urgency and ambition”.

He said that, starting today, helping society and economy to recover “will be at the very centre of everything the new government will do”.

The new Taoiseach said the three parties that make up the new Government come from very different traditions. “We do not and could not be expected to agree on everything. However, we have been able to agree on core democratic principles and on a balanced and comprehensive programme.

“We are conscious of the fact that must work hard to build trust with each other and with the people we have a duty and privilege to serve...and we must tackle the existential crisis posed by climate change.”

After 31 years as a TD and nine years as party leader, Mr Martin will lead an unprecedented three-party Government that formally ends the so-called Civil War era of politics, as Fianna Fáil enters coalition with Fine Gael and the Greens.

Surprise vote

All 37 Fianna Fail TDs, 35 Fine Gael deputies and 12 Green TDs supported his nomination along with Independent TDs including Marian Harkin, Michael McNamara, Noel Grealish, Michael Lowry, Peter Fitzpatrick, Matt Shanahan, Richard O’Donoghue, Verona Murphy and Cathal Berry.

Independent Galway TD Sean Canney was a surprise vote against Mr Martin’s election.

Independents Denis Naughten, Mattie McGrath and Carol Nolan abstained.

Sinn Féin, Labour, the Social Democrats, People Before Profit, Solidarity and Rise TDs, along with Independents Joan Collins, Michael Fitzmaurice, Catherine Connolly, Michael and Danny Healy-Rae and Thomas Pringle, opposed the election of Mr Martin as Taoiseach.

Earlier, Independent Sligo-Leitrim TD Ms Harkin said she would “loan” her vote while Galway Independent Mr Grealish, Clare TD Mr McNamara and long-term government supporter and Tipperary Independent Mr Lowry said they too would back Mr Martin for taoiseach.

The new Kerry TD Norma Foley proposed Mr Martin be nominated for the position of Taoiseach, shortly after the sitting began at 10.30am.

She said that as a minister in a number of portfolios, he had left a “lasting and positive legacy”.

Ms Foley, who had nominated Mr Martin when the new Dáil first met in February, quoted Dr Noel Browne from 1969 when Sean Lemass was nominated for taoiseach in a contentious debate, when he said: “You must give credit to the man”.

And she said of Mr Martin: “You must give credit to the man”.

He had been a reforming and progressive minister for education and created the first programme of support for children with autism, along with many other initiatives, she said.

He had delivered a positive, progressive programme of change in his ministerial roles in Health, Enterprise and Foreign Affairs.

Mr Martin’s nomination was seconded by Cork East TD James O’Connor, who said the Fianna Fáil leader would show his qualities of leadership and work in the service of democratic tradition.

Sinn Féin nomination

As expected there were just two nominees for the position of Taoiseach: Mr Martin and Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald.

Sinn Féin’s finance spokesman Pearse Doherty said he proposed Ms McDonald “because I want change”.

Mr Doherty said nobody but Ms McDonald could lead a government for change. Her nomination was seconded by Galway TD Maireád Farrell.

Ms McDonald reiterated her statement that her party would provide the most effective opposition in the history of the State.

She said people voted for a new direction in unprecedented numbers in February’s General Election, and said Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael had excluded Sinn Féin from talks on government formation.

Insisting that the vote for Sinn Féin in February was not a protest vote, she described it as one driven by kindness and rooted in common sense.

Prior to the vote, outgoing Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he believed Civil War politics ended a long time ago in the country, “but today civil war politics has ended in our parliament”.

He pointed to Fine Gael’s unprecedented third term in office and an opportunity to protect what had been delivered and improve on mistakes.

He said that a majority was more than 50 per cent and Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and the Green party had secured more than 50 per cent of the votes in the General Election on February 8th.

Mr Varadkar spoke critically of Sinn Féin. “They’re willing to get into power with Fianna Fáil and they’re willing to get into power with Fine Gael and they were probably willing to get into power with both, but when the Green party did this they were selling out.”

Green support

Green leader Eamon Ryan Green party leader Eamon Ryan described Mr Martin as a man perfectly qualified to lead the new Government, describing him as calm in a crisis, forward-looking and with a good sense of humour.

Mr Martin had social justice “at his core” and was not closed to new ideas and new ways of doing things, Mr Ryan said.

He emphasised the importance of investing in a new energy system and “managing our own resources for our wealth and security into the future”.

Labour leader Alan Kelly said there was one final step for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to take and that was to merge because there was “not a scintilla of difference between them” and he said today represented an historic re-alignment of Irish politics.

Mr Kelly wished Mr Martin well but said he wanted to put him on notice that “we will hold you to account”. He said the opportunities presented by the pandemic should not be ignored, as he said the Irish people now “had a glimpse of a single tier health system”.

Mr Kelly said the nomination of Ms McDonald as Taoiseach was “unworthy of support”. Mr Kelly dismissed Ms McDonald’s nomination and said it was not backed up by a real programme for government. He said she yearned for opposition and her nomination could not be supported.

Mr Kelly also hit out at Fianna Fáil and said that when the party claimed to be of the working class, “it is simply a smoke screen”.

“They have no problem taking away from our workforce,” he added as he insisted that the party was “no friend of workers”, despite Mr Martin’s claims.

‘Broken record’

Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy said her party would support Government in any measures that would deliver a social democratic programme but strongly reject any measures that negatively impacted on the vulnerable.

She said today was a historic day, but there was nothing normal about it.

Ms Murphy said Ireland was changing and the “broken record needs to change too”.

She said the General Election vote was not a protest, but one of “sending a very determined message”.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett described the Programme for Government as a rehash of the “same old failed policies”. He claimed it failed to give a fair deal to workers, gave only a vague commitment to a living wage and contained no plans for affordable childcare.

Mr Boyd Barrett said the commitments on climate were “so vague and aspirational that they can be pushed back until the end of the decade”.

Solidarity TD Mick Barry said Mr Martin had achieved the support of less than one in seven voters under the age of 24. He said more than half of those between 18 and 24 were now unemployed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr Lowry, who earlier this morning had confirmed he would vote for Mr Martin as Taoiseach, said the “single monopoly days” were long over. Mr Lowry said he believed that time would prove that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael were an “ideal match” and the Government they were part of would be progressive.

Mr Lowry added that he was happy after the results of membership votes yesterday that the three parties involved had “acted in the national interest”.

He said the new Government is the “start of a big adventure for the Green party”. He hoped they had the “strength and resilience” to go the distance.

Mr Grealish said he would support Mr Martin’s nomination, but set out his demands. He said he would be seeking vital resources for the SME sector, childcare services and transport infrastructure, particularly in the west.

Ms Harkin said she would “loan” her vote to Mr Martin because a government was needed. Mr McNamara also said he would support Mr Martin for Taoiseach. He called on him to govern in the “republican tradition” and to pledge that he would “cherish all the children of the nation equally”, particularly children with special needs.

Rural Independent Mattie McGrath said he did not believe Sinn Féin had made any serious attempt to produce a programme for government.

But he said he did not have faith in the three parties’ Programme for Government. He did not believe Fine Gael had any empathy with the people.

He said, however, that the country needed a government, so he wished them well, but highlighting what he described as “attacks” on rural Ireland, he said he would “hold the Government to account”.

Independent Michael Collins said there was no difference between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. They were now “joined at the hip” for the foreseeable future and perhaps forever.

He warned he would not support any government that did not support Bantry Hospital.

Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae highlighted the case of Ronan Foley in Killorglin, Co Kerry, who he said was waiting for more than 20 months for an operation for 90 per cent curvature of the spine. He said the Minister for Health had said nobody should wait more than four months.

Mr Healy-Rae and his brother Danny both said they could not support the Government because, they said, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil had done a U-turn on their pledge to support the proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in Shannon.

‘Healy-Rae party’

Danny Healy-Rae drew laughter when he said he personally wished Mr Martin and the incoming Government well “on behalf of the Healy-Rae party”.

Independent Donegal TD Thomas Pringle said he wished the party leaders well personally but said he could not back them for Government.

He would not support Sinn Féin either because they were “preparing themselves for government” and have “rowed back on a lot of stuff”.

Independent Michael Fitzmaurice said the Programme for Government would destroy agriculture and the fabric of rural Ireland.

He said the Green Party leader had said people would be able to walk to work but “tell that to Bord na Mona employees living beside the bog and with no jobs”.

Earlier, Ceann Comhairle Sean O Fearghaíl told the sitting: “It has taken us a long time to get here.”

He told TDs they all “know the challenges that lie ahead and we must continue to protect our people” and promote society and “rebuild out damaged economy,

He said “together I firmly believe we are up to the challenge.” Mr O Fearghaíl described the assembly an effective demonstration of social distancing.

Outside the Convention Centre a small group of Debenhams workers protested, holding up banners including one that stated “Micheál Martin, what have you done for us lately?”

Seal of office

Mr Martin travelled to Áras an Uachtaráin to be presented with his seal of office and formally appointed by President Michael D Higgins. He went to Government Buildings to choose his Cabinet- in consultation with his two partners, Mr Varadkar and Mr Ryan.

Once this process has been completed - and it is seldom without hiccups - the Dáil will reconvene and the Cabinet will enter the chamber behind the new Taoiseach. After more speeches, the Dáil will vote to accept the nominations of the Cabinet.

Following this vote, the Dáil will adjourn again and the ministers will travel to Dublin Castle - instead of the Áras - where they will be formally presented with their seals by the President. This will be followed by the first meeting of the new Cabinet.

Mr Martin is also expected to name his 11 nominees to the Seanad - shared out between the three parties today - enabling the Seanad to meet on Monday at the Convention Centre with its full complement and vote to renew the Offences Against the State Act.

The Dáil is expected to meet again on Tuesday.