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The 33rd Dáil is meeting today for the first time - here's how it will play out

A new Ceann Comhairle is expected to be elected today – but we’re unlikely to see a new Taoiseach.

Inside the Dáil chamber
Inside the Dáil chamber
Image: Laura Hutton via RollingNews.ie

LATER TODAY, THE 33rd Dáil will convene for the first time since the general election earlier this month. 

As the political parties continue in their attempts to form a government, what exactly will the first day of the new Dáil entail? 

Usually, the major event of the day would be the election of a Taoiseach – but given the political wrangling that’s still going on, this looks unlikely to happen today. 

Last time around, it took a full 70 days for a Taoiseach to be chosen after the general election, with Enda Kenny elected on 6 May 2016.

It was not apparent up until the final moments even then whether or not he’d have enough votes to be elected Taoiseach – it took frantic last-minute discussions to win the support of enough independents and the Independent Alliance to get the new government over the line. 

Given how far the current negotiations are from this, the big event of the day is more likely going to be the election of the Ceann Comhairle. 

The Ceann Comhairle is the chair of the Dáil who is expected to observe strict impartiality and keep order in the house. Whoever is elected to the role is automatically re-elected to the next Dáil.

Fianna Fáil TD Seán Ó Feargháil was Ceann Comhairle of the 32nd Dáil, and was the first to be elected by secret ballot in 2016. 

He’s in the running for the role again; the only other contender is Independent TD and former Minister for Communications Denis Naughten. 

How events will start

Before voting starts, however, at 12pm the Clerk of Dáil Éireann, Peter Finnegan, will read out the Proclamation, received by President Michael D Higgin, convening the 33rd Dáil. 

The Clerk will then read the report on the issuing of writs and the names of the Members elected for each constituency. 

The next item of business is the election of the Ceann Comhairle. The Clerk of the Dáil acts as Chairman until a Ceann Comhairle is elected. 

How exactly is the Ceann Comhairle elected? 

Nominations for the role of Ceann Comhairle had to be submitted to the Clerk of the Dáil’s office by 6pm yesterday, with the nomination requiring the supporting signatures of no fewer than seven other Members of the House. 

Fianna Fáil’s Seán Ó Fearghaíl and independent Denis Naughten have put their names forward. 

Protocol dictates that if is more than one candidate then their names will be read out and each candidate will have five minutes to make their case to the Dáil. The clerk will then announce a secret ballot and the voting bells (known as the division bells) will be rung.

Voting takes place using the PR-STV system, so TDs will mark candidates in order of preference. They will vote in the privacy of specially erected polling booths in the voting lobbies just off the Dáil chamber.

Once all members have cast their votes the ballot will conclude and the Dáil will be suspended so the votes can be counted. The quota is 50% plus one. Theoretically, if all members vote correctly (no spoiled ballots) then the quota is 80. As soon as a candidate has reached this threshold, they are deemed elected.

Once elected, the successful candidate’s name will be announced at the count centre, near the Seanad chamber.

The Dáil resumes and the election of the new Ceann Comhairle is formally put to the house. If 30 members call for a division then a vote must take place, but if there are fewer than this then the candidate is formally elected.

No other Dáil business may be conducted until a Ceann Comhairle is elected. 

What happens once a Ceann Comhairle is elected? 

The first business for the Ceann Comhairle is to seek nominations for the position of Taoiseach. 

The Ceann Comhairle will usually ask a member of the largest party in the House to nominate their party leader for the position of Taoiseach.

Sinn Féin topped the first preference votes in the general election. Its total of 37 seats is one fewer than that of Fianna Fáil, however, which has 38 seats. Fine Gael won 35 seats.

If there is more than one candidate for the position of Taoiseach, which looks likely to occur, it is normal for there to be a debate on the merits of the various candidates. 

Leo Varadkar said on Tuesday that his name would go forward to be nominated as Taoiseach, but that he did not expected to be elected.

Fianna Fáil leader Michéal Martin and Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald are also likely to put their hats in the ring. 

If there is a vote on the matter, a manual vote will take place. 

If – as is all but certain to happen – no Taoiseach is elected today, Varadkar will travel to Áras an Uachtaráin to tender his resignation. 

He will then continue as caretaker, with the current Cabinet also remaining in place – including members who lost their seats in the general election. 

There is no deadline by which a Taoiseach must be nominated. 

If the Dáil fails to nominate a Taoiseach, which is expected to happen today as government formation talks continue, the Dáil can be adjourned until another day. 

With reporting by Christina Finn and Sean Murray 

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