Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald winning the most votes for Taoiseach is likely to be the outcome of a long first day of the 33rd Dáil.
ut all the contenders for Taoiseach will still be a long way short of forming an actual government. Here’s the rundown on what to expect.
The Dáil will formally sit at 12 noon tomorrow. The sitting could go on until 8pm. TDs will be arriving at Leinster House with families and supporters from 9am. The first item on the agenda will be the Clerk of the Dáil, Peter Finnegan, reading out formalities of the election and the names of the 160 TDs elected.
The first significant piece of business to be completed will be the election of the Ceann Comhairle, the chair of the Dáil. It’s an important and lucrative role on a minister’s salary of €175,000 and the holder is automatically elected at the next general election. The deadline for nominations passes at 6pm on Wednesday.
Outgoing Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl, the Fianna Fáil TD for Kildare South, and Independent Denis Naughton from Roscommon got the required seven TDs’ signatures each. Each candidate will get five minutes to speak on why they should be elected before a secret ballot is called.
Once TDs are summoned to deposit their votes in the ballot box, the Dáil will be adjourned between 1pm and 1.30pm. The votes will be counted in the Seanad ante room.
As the Ceann Comhairle is independent and impartial, Ó Fearghaíl’s election would reduce Fianna Fáil’s numbers to 37 TDs – the same as Sinn Féin on 37, with Fine Gael on 35. This will influence the strategic thinking of Fine Gael and Sinn Féin.
The Dáil will reconvene at 4pm to 4:30pm with the result of the vote and the new Ceann Comhairle taking his seat. After being congratulated, the Ceann Comhairle will seek nominations for Taoiseach, starting with the outgoing Taoiseach – even though Fine Gael does not have the most seats.
Leo Varadkar will be proposed and seconded by Bernard Durkan, his party’s longest-serving TD, and Emer Higgins, the youngest of his new TDs. He will get the 35 Fine Gael votes. Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin will be next up, nominated by two new TDs, Norma Foley and James O’Connor who, at 22 years of age, is the baby of the Dáil. Martin will get his 38 votes – that will be 37 if Ó Fearghaíl is Ceann Comhairle – but it’s too early for him to have any more. He remains the favourite to ultimately become Taoiseach.
Mary-Lou for Taoiseach
Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald is next up and she has her own 37 TDs. But she will also be supported by some, if not all, of Solidarity-People Before Profit-Rise. Richard Boyd Barrett’s group says it will vote for Ms McDonald as it wants to create a left-led government.
However, they will only vote for a government without Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil, so they are not permanent votes. The move is significant, as it will bring McDonald up to 42 votes – probably the most on the day.
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan will also be nominated and will have the backing of his 12 TDs.
After the nominations, there will be speeches setting out where parties and TDs stand, followed by voting on each nomination. The votes are all manual, so TDs have to walk through the lobbies at the back of the Dáil Chamber. There will be no electronic voting or messing about with phantom votes. Besides, TDs have not been assigned their permanent seats yet.
The ones to watch
The remaining groups will be watched carefully to see if they give indications of their intentions. The Social Democrats are not convinced there are the numbers there for a left government. The Labour Party probably won’t vote for anyone. The Rural Independents – involving Mattie McGrath, the Healy-Rae brothers and Michael Collins – have added Carol Nolan and Richard O’Donoghue to their ranks, but they don’t all vote together. Where the remaining Independents go, if anywhere, could be pivotal.
The Dáil will adjourn – probably for two weeks to Tuesday, March 3 – to allow further talks.
After the business of the day is completed, Mr Varadkar will go to Áras an Uachtaráin to tender his resignation to President Michael D Higgins.
But Mr Varadkar and his Government stay on until a successor is elected – whenever that will be.