Parliament gains upper hand as Taoiseach and Cabinet are appointed

Independents will have to curb their populist instincts and show willing, where necessary, to put country before constituency

For Enda Kenny yesterday was a bittersweet affair. He was re-elected as Taoiseach and became the first Fine Gael leader to secure a second term – but not as he would have wished. In 2011, Mr Kenny led a government with the largest parliamentary majority in the State's history. Now that Fine Gael has lost one third of its Dáil seats, he finds himself at the head of a minority government; one relying on the support of Independents and enjoying the qualified backing of Fianna Fáil. But for how long?

For the Taoiseach this has proved something of a Pyrrhic victory, with Fine Gael forced to dilute its policies to win Independent and Fianna Fáil support. It has paid a high price to retain power. As the party best placed to form a government, it has acted as a political facilitator in a scenario where there was no appetite for another general election – not least within Fine Gael – and no certainty that it would produce a more decisive electoral outcome.

However, the difficulties that Fine Gael experienced in reaching agreement with the Independent Alliance on a programme for government, and the delay yesterday in the vote to secure Mr Kenny’s re-election, does not bode well for the success of the new administration. This faltering start compounds doubts over the new Government’s voting strength in the Dáil and raises fresh questions about its political stability.

To govern is to make choices which involves taking tough and unpopular decisions in the national interest. For the Independents, adjusting to this unfamiliar role and fully accepting this responsibility, will not be easy. They will have to curb their populist instincts and show willing, where necessary, to put country before constituency.


The challenge for the new Government is to turn their aspirations – outlined in a 160-page programme which is light on detail and costings – into achievements. The Government’s fiscal stance strongly favours higher spending over tax cuts, with €3 billion in extra spending to 2021 envisaged, and with a phasing out of the Universal Social Charge (USC) financed by revenue savings from the non-indexation of personal tax credits. The aim also is to eliminate the Exchequer deficit by 2018.

What has been promised may be affordable, assuming the external economic environment – on which the domestic economy relies for rapid growth – remains benign. But how the Government might cope with an economic downturn would present a far greater test of its resolve.

The balance of power has shifted within the Oireachtas. The executive is no longer in a position to dominate the parliament; in particular once the promised reform of Dáil procedures have been adopted. A weaker executive held to account by a stronger legislature will be a defining feature of the 32nd Dáil.