The Irish Times view on the first sitting of the new Dáil: time for the real talking to begin
Parties must move past declarations about who they are avoiding and start exploring common ground
As expected, the first meeting of the 33rd Dáil managed to elect a ceann comhairle but not a taoiseach. The same scenario first played out in 1989, and again after the last election in 2016. This means the political parties and Independents have some idea of the kind of hurdles they face in the attempt to break the political stalemate confronting them.
The critical difference this time around is that there are three parties of roughly equal strength in the Dáil. Two of them, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, are adamant that they will not do a deal with the third, Sinn Féin. But there is little evidence to date that they are prepared to reach an accord with each other.
Devising a programme for government will not be easy but the sooner the parties get down to detail, the sooner it will become apparent if – and where – there is scope to coalesce
However, an encouraging demonstration of the capacity of politics to compromise was the strong mandate given by TDs to Seán Ó Fearghaíl, who was elected for a second term as ceann comhairle with a broad cross-section of party support. After taking the chair, Ó Fearghaíl referred to the manner of his election as showing that the Dáil can be decisive and pointedly referred to the urgency of finding a way to work together to deal with the problems ahead.
The parties in the Dáil should take Ó Fearghaíl’s words to heart. The inconclusive nature of the election makes an initial phase of shadow-boxing and gamesmanship inevitable. But it is now time to begin talks aimed at putting together a government with the capacity to implement the kind of reform mandated by the electorate in key areas such as housing and health.
This places an onus on all to move past declarations about who they are committed to excluding from government and to start discussing policy ideas and genuinely exploring common ground. Devising a programme for government will not be easy but the sooner the parties get down to detail, the sooner it will become apparent if – and where – there is scope to coalesce.
This will demand creative thinking – not only by the three big parties but the smaller ones as well. The arithmetic dictates that the composition of a stable government would have to involve two of the big three plus at least one of the smaller parties if it is to have any chance of delivering the radical action required. There is also a responsibility on Independents to identify common ground with each other and get involved in decision-making rather than simply criticising from the Opposition benches.
Speaking before the Dáil met yesterday, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin announced that he would ask Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar in the coming days to engage in talks on government formation. Varadkar has made clear that he would like to allow more time for the dust to settle, but he is duty bound to engage with Fianna Fáil. To quote Ó Fearghaíl again, it is time to act carefully, intelligently and – equally importantly – urgently.