Monday 19 February 2018

Country with no leadership as Taoiseach resigns post

Taoiseach Enda Kenny takes a call in Dublin city centre yesterday. Photo: Frank McGrath
Taoiseach Enda Kenny takes a call in Dublin city centre yesterday. Photo: Frank McGrath
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

The country is being run by a caretaker government today after Enda Kenny resigned as Taoiseach last night.

During almost six hours of exchanges in Leinster House, Mr Kenny said he respected "the verdict of the people" and wanted until at least March 22 to try to form a government.

Last night, he made the short journey to Áras an Uachtaráin to tender his resignation to President Michael D Higgins.

He will now continue in the role of acting Taoiseach, carrying out the duties of the office until a successor is elected.

The failure to form a government marked the end of the Fine Gael-Labour coalition, but the Dáil immediately descended into farce as TDs argued over whether they could debate the abolition of water charges.

Despite the power vacuum, ministers will continue to hold their portfolios and some will fly around the world for St Patrick's Day.

On a day of pontificating, 25 TDs sat on the fence and refused to show a preference for any of the four names nominated to be Taoiseach.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin argued that politicians should set aside the next month to deal with Dáil reform, saying it was "time to put aside the argument that speed of formation and the size of the majority are what matters in choosing a new Taoiseach and government".

However, this approach was rounded on by the majority of TDs who spoke, including the Independent Alliance and the Green Party.

There is a growing expectation that Mr Kenny will make contact with the leader of Fianna Fáil in the coming days, but Mr Martin again displayed an unwillingness to engage with Fine Gael.

He accused the media were "jumping way ahead of yourselves" by talking about a 'grand coalition'.

"Our objective in terms of the present situation is that the people voted for change. They rejected this government emphatically. That's very clear from looking in the chamber today where you see the physical manifestation from the result," he said.

"We didn't get a mandate to go into government with Fine Gael and we certainly didn't get a mandate to put Fine Gael back into government."

Mr Kenny was backed during a vote on who should be Taoiseach by his own TDs and the seven remaining members of the Labour Party in a move Tánaiste Joan Burton said would "bookend" their relationship.

Mr Martin was nominated by Fianna Fáil but failed to attract any support from outside the party. Sinn Féin put forward Gerry Adams who received 24 votes, while Richard Boyd Barrett of AAA-PBP got nine.

Five independent TDs, Michael Harty, Denis Naughten, Noel Grealish, Michael Collins and Mattie McGrath abstained from all the votes.

Ms Burton told the Dáil that those currently on the Opposition benches had "onus and responsibility" to step forward and try form a government.

"Of course, none of us are truly foolish enough to believe that Sinn Fein and the ultra-left will suddenly act in the national interest," she said.

However, others suggested that it was time for Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to start negotiating.

Eamon Ryan said he will most likely keep the Green Party on the Opposition benches, but the two biggest parties had a "historic opportunity".

"Do not let the Irish people down," he said, adding: "I believe it may be time because the numbers just work out that the civil war divide comes to an end."

The Independent Alliance's John Halligan said: "They [voters] have dealt this deck of cards here today and they have told us this is what they want.

"Are we seriously thinking that in the very near future, that in a few months that we could go back to the people and say 'we are not happy with how you vote, would you please vote again'.

"We cannot do that. We have a responsibility to the people of Ireland to form some form government."

New Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl was embroiled in a sustained row with members of Sinn Féin and Paul Murphy of AAA-PBP as they sought to have a water charges vote added to the agenda for March 22.

Mary Lou McDonald said the Ceann Comhairle was attempting to "knock people back on the first day of the 32nd Dáil that apparently was so committed to Dáil reform."

Mr Ó Fearghaíl said her comments were "deeply cynical".

Irish Independent

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