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While parties try to cobble a government together, these important dates are looming large

There’s a royal visit, a St Patrick’s Day trip to Washington, and Brexit trade talks coming up shortly…

Leo Varadkar presents US President Donald Trump with a bowl of Shamrock on St Patrick's Day last year.
Leo Varadkar presents US President Donald Trump with a bowl of Shamrock on St Patrick's Day last year.
Image: PA

IT TOOK 63 DAYS to form the last government, in a confidence and supply arrangement that wasn’t expected to last as long as it did. 

That was a Fine Gael-Independent Alliance government, with a few independents, propped up by Fianna Fáil in a Confidence and Supply Agreement that was to last three budgets – in the end, we got three budgets and a bit.

The next Irish government could be anything from a reverse Confidence and Supply agreement (meaning Fine Gael propping up Fianna Fáil et al), with Fianna Fáil and the Greens in power, a grand coalition, or a left-wing government led by Sinn Féin. 

With complications attached to all of these options, it could be weeks before we know what’s next. If the parties cannot agree, we might have another election before the end of the year. 

Although we have a new set of TDs, those who held government positions are still constitutionally in those roles, holding all the same powers that that role entails. This means that Leo Varadkar is still the Taoiseach, Simon Ross is still Transport Minister, and Mary Mitchell-O’Connor is still Minister of State for Higher Education, etc.

So with a couple of important engagements coming up, we might see some former TDs carry out their duties for a little bit longer. Here are some of those dates.

Next Thursday is when the new Dáil convenes for the first time: a vote, or votes, will be held on who should be the next Taoiseach.

The British are coming: Prince William and Kate Middleton will be arriving in Dublin on 4 March for a three-day royal visit. The two are scheduled to head to Galway on Thursday, for their final day in Ireland.

When Prince Harry and Meghan Markle visited Dublin in July 2018, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar met them at Áras an Uachtaráin.

St Patrick’s Day is just a month away. The arrangements for last year’s State trips, where ministers flew all over the world to represent Ireland on the day it is celebrated, were announced at the end of January.

Some St Patrick’s Day arrangements have been made. For example, it’s expected that the traditional trip to Washington – where the Taoiseach hands the US President a bowl of shamrocks – will go ahead.

If a government hasn’t been formed in time for St Patrick’s Day, it’s expected that something similar to 2016 will happen and Leo Varadkar will travel to the US. In 2016, Enda Kenny flew to Washington to meet with then-US President Barack Obama for a St Patrick’s Day press event.

On the Brexit front, there are a few deadlines coming up (surprise, surprise).

Trade talks are due to kick off at the beginning of March, but Ireland doesn’t necessarily need a government in place for that yet – it will mostly be handled by the EU’s Brexit negotiation team, headed up by Michel Barnier.

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Ireland also has representation in the EU in the form of the EU’s Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan, who will be heavily involved in the trade talks. There are also 13 Irish MEPs (one of this number, Sinn Féin’s Matt Carthy, has been elected as a TD and will need to be replaced).

Where Ireland will be missed is at the European Council, or the meeting of the leaders of the 27 EU countries. The next European Council summit is on this Thursday 20 February (the same day that the new Dáil meets).

The likelihood is that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will attend the council, which is being called to announce the EU’s budget. The next two Council summits will be on 26-27 March, and 18-19 June. 

By 1 July, the UK government must decide whether they’re extending the Brexit transition period, which is to last until 31 December 2020.

If the UK requests to extend the transition period, that request will most likely be voted on at the June European Council summit.

If this is the case, it will be important to have a Taoiseach who has a mandate from the people to take a vote on that decision.

If Varadkar is still Taoiseach by then, he will still have all the powers he had before to act as Taoiseach; it’s likely that he would confer with the leaders of the other political parties to develop a position for Ireland collectively.

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