Today was the first session of the post-election Dáil Éireann, the thirty-second incarnation of Ireland’s legislature since the revolutionary assembly of 1919-21. In the centenary of the 1916 Rising the designation of thirty-two reminds us that the Republic’s first parliament originally represented all thirty-two counties of our island nation. However the (near) common political propose back then was notably absent from today’s meeting, though at least the gathered Teachtaí Dála did not have to worry about being entered in the register as faoi ghlas ag na Gaill “imprisoned by the Foreigner”. That should remind us just how far our democracy has advanced over the last ninety-seven years, despite all of its flaws.
First order of business was the election of a new Ceann Comhairle or speaker of the legislature, using a secret ballot under the PR-STV system. This perhaps gave us an opportunity to see how the pieces are lining up on the political chessboard. The two Fine Gael candidates, Andrew Doyle and Bernard Durkan, gave rather typical middle management speeches, echoed with slightly more appeal by Fianna Fáil’s Seán Ó Feargháil. Veteran Sinn Féin deputy, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, made a far better presentation, reminding us of the qualities that made him the torchbearer for his party in the Oireachtas during the dark days of the northern conflict. Independent TD, Maureen O’Sullivan, was just as impressive, both of the left-leaning candidates standing head-and-shoulders above their centre-right rivals.
In the event Ó Feargháil succeeded in his candidacy, robbing us of the opportunity for our first female Ceann Comhairle, though how the first preference votes played out was just as interesting.
56 votes = Seán Ó Feargháil (supported by Fianna Fáil TDanna and others)
32 votes = Andrew Doyle (supported by Fine Gael TDanna)
24 votes = Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin (supported by Sinn Féin TDanna and one other)
24 votes = Maureen O’Sullivan (supported by independent TDanna and others)
21 votes = Bernard Durkan (supported by Fine Gael TDanna)
The transfer of second and third preferences made it clear that a handful of FF and FG deputies were making some modest effort to support each other’s nominations, eventually giving Ó Fearghaíl seventy-four votes to Doyle’s fifty-eight. A foreshadowing of the rumoured grand coalition between the two rivals that some conservative voices are urging, both within An Dáil and outside? On a strategic level for Fine Gael at least, it has now left Fianna Fáil one deputy short in the chamber.
Next up was the all important nomination for Taoiseach na hÉireann, with the incumbent, Fine Gael’s Enda Kenny, looking particularly glum about it all. This time the vote was in the open, and a simple Tá or Níl as the Teachtaí Dála made their way through the lobbies. Again, the voting outcome made for an interesting source of speculation. Enda Kenny’s re-election was defeated by ninety-four votes to fifty-seven, with Joan Burton’s seven Labour TDanna joining their former government colleagues, while six independent TDanna abstained. The nomination of Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin, was defeated by 108 votes to forty-three, with five abstentions from non-aligned deputies. Gerry Adams nomination by Sinn Féin was defeated by 116 votes to twenty-four with sixteen abstentions (mostly independents and left-wing parties), while Richard Boyd Barrett of the AAA-PBP received only nine votes. Precious few signs of an emerging policy coalition of progressives there, though it’s still very much early days in the political horse-trading.
With no Taoiseach elected by An Dáil, Enda Kenny is now required to tender his resignation to President Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin, leaving him as the head of a caretaker government for the next… Well, your guess is as good as mine. With the voting over things quickly settled into typically rancorous form, with a contribution to the chamber by Gerry Adams being interrupted by heckling from the Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour benches.
So back to business as (almost) usual, then.