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Independent TD Richard O Donoghue celebrates with supporters while arriving at Leinister House for the first day back as the Dail returns from the elections.
Independent TD Richard O Donoghue celebrates with supporters while arriving at Leinister House for the first day back as the Dail returns from the elections.

Posh silverware, maiden speeches and tetchy barbs - here's how the first day of the 33rd Dáil played out

Leo Varadkar tendered his resignation as Taoiseach this evening.
Feb 20th 2020, 9:22 PM 22,694 26

AS THE HEALY RAE hooley drew to an end outside Leinster House, and with the 1959 vintage car that newly elected Independent TD Richard O’Donoghue arrived in parked outside the door, it was time for politicians to get down to business this afternoon. 

Leinster House was a hive of activity with the arrival of newly elected TDs. In the foyer, there were selfies being taken against the backdrop of portraits of Michael Collins and Michael D Higgins, and photos were being taken beside the Irish Proclamation.

While school tours are often a common feature in the House, very young children are not.

But there were plenty around the place today, jumping between the black and white tiles in the hallway, running around the revolving entrance door, and holding hands with their mums and dads who were elected in the general election. 

Fast forward a couple of hours and the positive, fun atmosphere had dissipated. The jibes and barbs between Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin, in particular, made it appear we’re still a long way off seeing any government formed.  

First day 

The first day of the Dáil is a special occasion at Leinster House. The place is spotless, the staff uniforms immaculate, and the carpets vacuumed to within an inch of their lives. 

Before TDs made their way to the chamber, many stopped off in the Leinster House canteen. While recyclable cutlery is the norm on any other day, today is special.

Today, the silverware was out. 

“I hope none of those go missing,” said one TD, as people queued up to get a snack or a spot of lunch.

IMG_7578 The good silverware was out in Leinster House.

As excited TDs and their families got some sustenance before the long day, conversations could be overheard between the newbies – including one chat between Fianna Fáilers debating who was more Fianna Fáil.

“My granny goes way back in the party,” said one eager TD. 

It’s not just the staff and TDs that are in the ‘first day’ best outfits. The newly appointed Ceann Comhairle for the 33rd Dáil Seán Ó Fearghaíl joked that his robes were subject of a Freedom of Information request which found that they were so old that nobody knew how much they cost.

Party leaders congratulated Ó Feargháil on his re-election, and commiserated with Independent TD Denis Naughten, who lost out on the job.

Before the votes were taken for the Dáil chairman, the TDs of the 33rd Dáil had the opportunity to mingle for the first time.

Reporters on the press gallery peered over the balcony, situated above the Ceann Comhairle’s seat, watching to see who was talking to who.

Would a Fianna Fáiler cross the room to talk to a Fine Gaeler or even someone from Sinn Féin?

For the most part the atmosphere was cordial, as members laughed along with one another. But there was one notable handshake – that between Leo Varadkar and newly-elected Wexford TD Verona Murphy.

Murphy, as you may recall, caused controversy in November’s by-election campaign due to comments on immigration. She was later dropped from the Fine Gael ticket, after failing to get a seat in that contest. 

No Taoiseach 

The nomination for Taoiseach followed with many TDs making their maiden speeches in the Dáil, including Fianna Fáil’s Norma Foley who said she was “proud beyond measure” to nominate Micheál Martin for Taoiseach.

Richard O’Donoghue, the Independent who made a splash with his vintage car arrival, also made a memorable maiden speech, stating:

How many of ye here have education of life? How many of ye have common sense? I do believe that an ounce of cop-on is better than a stone of brains.

Start as you mean to go on, as they say.

344 Richard O'Donoghue TD in his vintage car inside the Leinster House gates. Source:

But the main show today was the four unsuccessful votes for the next Taoiseach. It was expected. The general election, as Richard Boyd Barrett put it today, represented a seismic change in Irish politics.

The first vote for Taoiseach was for Leo Varadkar. The scrum to get to vote against the Taoiseach was sizeable. As had been expected, he lost out, sealing his fate that he would have to visit President Michael D Higgins to tender his resignation and switch to a caretaker role. 

Micheál Martin’s vote was up next. As expected, no luck for the Fianna Fáil leader, though he managed to get a number of independent TDs to back him, including former Minister for State and former Independent Alliance member Sean Canney.

This was notable, as Canney also voted for Varadkar. Looking up to reporters he mouthed “rotating Taoiseach” – indicating to the media why he had voted for the two men.

5459 Dail Returns Source: Leah Farrell

The big win for the night was Mary Lou McDonald’s vote – 45 votes for her to become Taoiseach, the highest number, but not nearly enough to elect her to the office. 

Varadkar got to his feet, and told the members that he would travel to Áras an Uachtaráin, to tender his resignation as Taoiseach.

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He will continue to carry out his duties until a new government is elected, he said. 

Before setting off, he said some parties had spent the last nine years trying to get Fine Gael out of government, and now they wanted them to go back in.

“The irony isn’t lost on us,” he pointed out. If political stability is needed, Fine Gael is willing to talk to other parties, said Varadkar. He acknowledged that his party lost votes, lost seats, but stressed that it did get a mandate from 450,000 people. 

Micheál Martin was up next, describing the day as a colourful one, remarking on how  envied the Healy Raes’ marketing skills. 

His tone then changed when he spoke about Sinn Féin. 

Martin dedicated a significant chunk of his remarks to criticising Sinn Féin, accusing the party of glorifying the IRA.

He outlined why he would not do business with the party, questioning their democratic procedures, and criticising them for brushing aside recent anti-semitic remarks by a newly-elected TD.

McDonald said in an equally lengthy response:

I see we still live rent free in Micheál Martin’s very narrow and bitter mind.

She said she had significant concerns in relation to corruption associated with his party in the past.

And she insisted the people who had voted for her party knew what they were doing. 

“Show us what you’re made of,” is what McDonald said the electorate were saying to Sinn Féin in the general election. 

McDonald said government formation was about policy, but it is also about power “and who wields it”. 

“By Christ, they’re (FF and FG) not minded to let it go,” she said. 

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan concluded the day’s events by stating that sometimes taking a minute to calm oneself was needed.

Acting as a peacemaker – a role he might well end up fulfilling in government one day – he appealed to all parties to move beyond toxic, hostile remarks.

They don’t serve anybody, he said, least of all the public.

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Christina Finn


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