Seán Ó Fearghaíl re-elected as Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil
Micheál Martin to ask Varadkar to engage in government formation talks in coming days
Seán Ó Fearghaíl has been re-elected as Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil by a margin of 130 votes to 28.
Mr Ó Fearghaíl beat Independent Roscommon TD Denis Naughten.
This reduces Fianna Fáil’s number of TDs from 38 to 37. This puts Micheal Martin’s party level with Sinn Féin in Dáil numbers. Fine Gael has 35 seats.
As proceedings got underway on the first day of the new Dáil, Mr Naughten said he had been in government and opposition and “I understand every perspective of the House because I’ve lived it”.
He put his name forward because of the public frustration with political accountability, which he said was an issue on the doorsteps during the campaign.
Mr Ó Fearghaíl who sat on the Fianna Fáil benches paid tribute to Mr Naughten and said competition was an essential part of the democratic process.
“I seek a renewal of the mandate hoping that my work of last four years has assisted to make the Dáil more responsive” and effective.
He said he worked on the principle of respect for the mandate of each TD and he believed the last Dáil had worked in a more collegial fashion.
Mr Ó Fearghaíl highlighted some of the achievements of the last Dáil including the establishment of a budget office to cost proposals, to emulate the congressional office on Capital Hill in the US.
He said they had augmented the parliamentary legal office to support TDs in writing and amending legislation.
‘Respecting all voices’
A number of events included the hosting by the Women’s Caucus of the first international caucus of female parliamentarians and the youth assembly on climate change, “a world first”.
Mr Ó Fearghaíl said he wanted to make the Dáil one that Irish people, “our masters”, would be proud of and to “challenge, to interpret, to respect and to act” for the people.
He added that he would “continue work in promoting and respecting all voices in the House without fear or favour”.
Proceedings began at 12.04pm as Clerk of the Dáil Peter Finnegan recited the traditional prayer in Irish and English.
He noted the dissolution by President Michael D Higgins of the Dáil when the election was called on January 14th and the requirement to “meet in the city of Dublin on the 20th of February”.
He then read out the names of the returning officers for each constituency before reading the names of each of the TDs elected to the new Dáil.
It took 10 minutes to read out the names in the order in which they were elected in each constituency, in alphabetical order.
The first constituency listed was Carlow-Kilkenny and first elected TD named in the House was Sinn Féin TD Kathleen Funchion followed by Fianna Fáil’s John McGuinness and Jennifer Murnane O’Connor, Fine Gael’s John Paul Phelan and Malcolm Noonan of the Green Party.
Earlier TDs and their family members arrived at Leinster House to be greeted by a phalanx of media.
One of the most dramatic entrances to Leinster House was by Richard O’Donoghue the first Independent TD elected to Limerick County who arrived in a 1959 Plymouth car.
Mr O’Donoghue, who has joined the Rural Independents group said the local vintage car society asked if they could drive him to Leinster House in the car which was used in the motorcade when US president John F Kennedy visited Ireland in 1963 and was also part of the funeral procession for writer Brendan Behan.
Vote for taoiseach
Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has said he will ask Leo Varadkar in the coming days to engage on Government formation talks.
“I will be saying to Leo Varadkar after today, engaging, saying you and the Fine Gael party need to engage.”
He also outlined once again his opposition to working with Sinn Féin.
“The issues with Sinn Féin are quite fundamental. Their structures are problematic in terms of those who control the levers of power.”
He said there is also a fundamental incompatibility in terms of the Sinn Féin manifesto.
“Their manifesto, which escaped a lot of scrutiny, does not stack up at all. It was something that harks back to a different era.”
“This idea that if you receive 24 per cent of the vote you have a divine right to be in Government, that is a completely new concept to Irish politics. There have been six occasions in the past where a party that got 40 per cent of the vote did not make it into Government.”
“We need to get back to terra firma in relation to what this result means.”
He said he will meet with other parties to try to find a common policy platform and that a different approach to politics must be found.
Mr Martin said the next Government should last “for a reasonable period of time”.
He said there needs to be an urgent change of direction on health, housing and climate change.
Speaking outside Leinster House alongside his parliamentary party, Mr Martin also did not address questions about the concept of a rotating taoiseach.
There has been speculation that a so-called grand coalition between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil would mean a rotating taoiseach would be agreed between party leaders.
It is expected that Ms McDonald will get an additional eight votes in the contest for Taoiseach, in addition to Sinn Féin’s 37 TDs.
Richard Boyd Barret, Gino Kenny and Bríd Smith of People Before Profit, Mick Barry of the Socialist Party and Paul Murphy of RISE have all indicated they will vote for Ms McDonald.
However, they said their votes are dependent on Ms McDonald not forming a government that involves Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael.
The Independents 4 Change group – comprising TDs Thomas Pringle, Joan Collins and Catherine Connolly – will also vote for Ms McDonald.
Ms Connolly, a Galway West TD, said an alternative is needed to Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.
People Before Profit-Solidarity TDs earlier said they will vote for Mary Lou McDonald as taoiseach on Thursday afternoon, making it likely that the Sinn Féin leader will win the highest number of votes of any candidate.
However, Ms McDonald will not win a majority, meaning Mr Varadkar will continue as a caretaker Taoiseach until the new Dáil elects a successor – a process expected to take some weeks, and possibly months.
People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said on Wednesday afternoon at Leinster House that he and his colleagues would vote for the Sinn Féin leader in order to promote efforts to establish a left-wing minority government but not, he stressed, to strengthen her hand in any negotiations with Fianna Fáil.
He said that she must rule out any deals with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to form a government a “move forward to assemble a left-led government”.
Mr Boyd-Barrett and his colleagues Paul Murphy and Bríd Smith said that both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael must now “step back” and “get out of the way” to allow a left-led government be formed.
Asked what they meant by this, they said that both parties should abstain to allow Ms McDonald to become taoiseach and form a government. They said that the two parties could then oppose “radical change” at their peril.
If they caused another election they would be punished by the electorate, the TDs said.
It also emerged earlier on Wednesday that the Social Democrats will abstain on all votes during nominations for a new taoiseach .
The party held discussions on Thursday morning on the issue ahead of the first meeting of the 33rd Dáil. New and returning TDs are arriving at Leinster House with their families since early this morning.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has been trying to shore up support from smaller parties on the left over the last few days ahead of nominations for Taoiseach today.
While no one nomination will have the requisite numbers, many will be watching carefully to see how much support Ms McDonald can demand from smaller parties.
Mr Martin, Ms McDonald, Mr Varadkar and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan are all expected to put their names forward.
None will come close to the required 80 Dáil votes to succeed, with tentative negotiations on forming a new government ongoing.