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'Where are they?': Utter confusion in the halls of Leinster House on a bizarre day

There was a tense atmosphere in the halls of Leinster House yesterday as Enda Kenny wondered if he could get over the line.

06/05/2016. New Cabinet General Election 2016. Pic The new Cabinet Source: Sam Boal

FRIDAYS ARE USUALLY quiet around Leinster House, but not yesterday.

The media gathered outside on Kildare Street from early morning to catch an independent or minister for a quick soundbite (anything really, the lack of news in Leinster House the last few weeks has brought journalists to the brink).

Meanwhile, busy workmen toiled tirelessly to construct a makeshift podium for photographers. There were smiles on the politicians faces as they filed in one by one.

After 70 days of lengthy discussions back and forth between all parties, it was finally all coming to an end.

“It reminds me of the first day of school,” exclaimed one TD.

He was correct, with the sun shining down on the plinth, there was a real buzz around the place that something was FINALLY happening.

However, from early in the morning, the soundings were that all was not going to go off without a hitch.

Late in the day on Thursday, the Dáil was told it was to return at noon the next day for a vote for an Taoiseach (fourth time lucky, Fine Gael was hoping).
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However, this ultimatum deadline did not go down well with independents, who had only just received the draft programme for government.

Waterford Independent John Halligan told TheJournal.ie that it was “outrageous” that some members of the media got the documents before they did.

He wasn’t the only one. Feedback from the independents was that this was just another example of Fine Gael’s “arrogance” and apparent amnesia that they needed to keep these guys on side.

The mood yesterday morning was that this move had soured the situation, with one deputy saying it was a real snub, while another said there were some aggressive words exchanged over the matter.

But could something like that actually throw a spanner in the works? No one really thought so, but then noon arrived, and there was no sight of the independents in the chamber.

Heads strained to get a glance of them and Enda did not look pleased. The AAA’s Ruth Coppinger went as far as saying he looked like the most unhappy incoming Taoiseach she had ever seen.

Panic set in along the halls of Leinster House.

What was going on? Were the independents in or out? If they are out, are we going back to the people?

As time ticked by, more deputies volunteered to speak. An Irish filibuster, if you will – anything to delay and buy some time as the independents and Fine Gael continued talks behind the scenes in Government Buildings.

The rumour mill was flying with one FG TD saying after, “I really thought that was it for a minute – get the posters out again.”

But then with one camera span of the house, the independents appeared. But what way would they go? The atmosphere in the halls calmed.

“It’s okay, we’ve been told there is a vote at 2pm, it’s grand,” was one deputy’s response as the tension lifted, and relief washed over Kenny’s face.

In the end, he made it across the line with 59 votes to 49.

Five of the Independent Alliance supported Kenny, with Michael Fitzmaurice falling by the wayside over turf. Three of the Rural Five backed him, as well as Michael Lowry and Katherine Zappone. The latter rewarded with a senior ministry. The former didn’t get the same gift.

6/5/2016. General Election 2016 – Government For Source: Eamonn Farrell

Politicians and well-wishers lined up outside the entrance of Leinster House, awaiting the newly-elected Taoiseach. As the revolving door spun, Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams appeared with a wry smile on his face. He walked out, taking the opportunity to stroll down past the crowd, soaking in what it might be like to be leader of the Republic.
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After thanking the Dáil and making a commitment to the Irish people that he would work hard to solve society’s problems, Kenny was led outside to the cheering crowd.

Tourists and a flock of school children at the Natural Museum and the National Library had their cameras out to catch a glimpse of what was going on.

Hugging, kissing and joking with onlookers, the Taoiseach made his way to his cortège and was whisked off to Phoenix Park.

It was a bizarre and unique day. A Dáil balancing on a knife’s edge, with Labour’s Alan Kelly calling it both “shambolic” and “embarrassing”.

But despite all this, we are waking up this morning with a government in place.

While you may feel a little relieved, there are questions to be answered about how stable – the buzzword of the general election campaign – the minority actually is. One thing seems quite certain, the government that took 70 days to establish, most likely won’t be around for all that long.

More: Only 75 local authority houses were built in 2015 – the worst year on record>

LIVE: The Dáil is voting for our next Taoiseach>

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