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Maiden speeches jump on Enda Kenny's victory chariot

New TDs and independents make sure they have their “spake” before Fine Gael leader gets the nod for Taoiseach.

Enda Kenny emerging from mass at St Anne's Church, near Leinster House, this morning
Enda Kenny emerging from mass at St Anne's Church, near Leinster House, this morning
Image: PA Images/Julien Behal

NEW CEANN COMHAIRLE Sean Barrett had his work cut out for him as soon as he put on his official robes on the first day of the 31st Dail.

While Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny was voted in as the new Taoiseach by 117 votes to 27, the debate after his initial nomination gave a number of new deputies the chance to launch their maiden speeches. After Richard Boyd Barrett of the People Before Profit, independent Shane Ross and Seamus Healy of the Workers and Unemployed Action Group South Tipperary (although not a first-time TD) had opposed Kenny’s nomination with lengthy speeches, Barrett commented;

I have been a bit liberal with those making their maiden speeches.

He asked deputies to “please confine” their remarks to the question of whether Kenny should be Taoiseach or not.

The nomination for Kenny as Taoiseach, made by Fine Gael’s Simon Harris, 24, the youngest deputy returned to the Dail, was unsurprisingly glowing. He said that “at the core” Kenny is a man “of honesty and decency” and that people believed he was the man to “put in place plans that will build a fairer society”. He said that Ireland was hanging out its “brightest colours” today and he declared:

Today the period of mourning is over.

Labour’s Ciara Conway seconded Harris’s motion, calling the day ” a historic moment”.

The 31st Dail is one of dramatic change. The government that will be elected here today has the strongest mandate in the history of the State. A mandate to strive, with every fibre of our being, for an Ireland we can be proud to hand on to our children.

More surprising, or not so much considering his earlier remarks about “reform” of how opposition works in the Dail, Micheál Martin said he supported Kenny’s nomination.

Clearly this decision will not affect the outcome of the votes, but it an important signal about changing the way politics is conducted in Dail Eireann.

He said that it was “clear” that Kenny had been “given a mandate by the people to take up the office of Taoiseach, and that he should do so in a coalition government involving the Fine Gael and Labour parties”.

However, Gerry Adams and Pearse Doherty of Sinn Fein were among those who claimed in the Dail that Martin was happy to support the Kenny nomination because the new coalition government’s programme for government was following the austerity measures laid down by the FF-led government.

Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins said that the new programme for government was a “grotesque betrayal” of the “democratic revolution” Kenny said had taken place at the polls. He said he was surprised the Fine Gael and Labour deputies hadn’t come into the Dail sitting with “penitential ash” on their brows today.

Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams had a pop at Labour for “ruling out” working with any other parties and independents on the left.

But the debate over Kenny’s nomination really belonged to the independents who took it as an opportunity to baptise their election to the 31st Dail – and whose first words in the Dail media and political watchers had been eagerly anticipating.

Former senator Shane Ross said he “personally fully accepts” that Enda Kenny has the mandate from the people to be Taoiseach. However, he said he was “somewhat dispirited” having read the programme for government, reiterating Gerry Adams’s claim that it imposed “exactly the same parameters” and “the same austerity measures” on the country as the previous government had.

Richard Boyd Barrett of People Before Profit, which ran under the United Left Alliance banner, spoke at length about how his party would be “supporting people to take up their placards” (peacefully) against the new government’s attempts to impose cuts. He said the “certain bad tradition” that he wanted politics to break with was “the politics of saying one thing during an election campaign and then doing something very different” as soon as the election was over.

Independent John Halligan from Waterford was also against Kenny’s nomination, taking major issue with the Universal Social Charge which he described as a “super tax”. Tom Fleming, an independent from Kerry South, said he would be abstaining from voting and was asked by the Ceann Comhairle to refrain from speaking about the possible loss of 150 jobs in a factory in South Kerry that was put on 30 days’ notice yesterday.

It was then the turn of Mick Wallace, the independent candidate from Wexford who was one of several deputies – including Boyd Barrett and Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan – to come to the Dail without a tie today. He promised to keep his speech short saying he would not be voting for Enda Kenny, although he hoped that he would help the country get back on its feet. He said he had stood for a TD seat because the public felt they were not being represented in government and there was genuine anger on the doorsteps about “why the taxpayer should be carrying the burden” of mistakes made by others.

Michael Healy Rae, who took the independent Kerry South seat of his father Jackie, made his maiden speech sans flat cap. He focused on employment and, not letting constituency colleague Tom Fleming steal his thunder, said he had already put a question to the government today about the potential loss of jobs in the county. Jackie Healy Rae having been a regular supporter of the old Fianna Fail government, his son today left the door open by announcing that he would not “label himself an opposition TD” nor would he presume to be “considered a government TD”.

One of the most stirring maiden speeches of the lunchtime session came from Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan, addressed by the Ceann Comhairle (with Flanagan’s blessing apparently) as Ming. He said that “unfortunately, as a west of Ireland man” (he represents Roscommon-South Leitrim), he would have to oppose the nomination of Enda Kenny as Taoiseach. He said:

I do not believe he is the best person for the job.

Flanagan elicited a laugh from the house by pointing out that “everyone in Labour thought Eamon Gilmore would be the best person for the job” at the start of the election campaign, when ‘Gilmore for Taoiseach’ posters abounded. Referring to last year’s leadership challenge within Fine Gael, he said that at one point in the last 12 months, not everyone in Fine Gael thought Enda Kenny was the best person for the job.

However, he then made personal appeals to Kenny.

I wish him the best on behalf of my two children… because I am terrified that they will have to take that same road (of emigration).

He “begged” Kenny to use the advice of experts such as economists Constantin Gurdgiev and David McWilliams, and of Shane Ross, to get a handle on the best route forward for Ireland’s fiscal health. He also appealed that the health system be tackled by the new government, citing as “embarrassing” what he watched his own ill mother having to go through in the Irish health system before she died.

He concluded with one final warning for Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore to allow the opposition to have their voices heard in the new Dail. He said:

If I don’t get my spake in here, I’ll do it through the media.

Kenny elected Taoiseach on the “threshold of change”>

SF and FF want secret ballot to elect next Ceann Comhairle>

How day 1 of the new Dail has been unfolding>

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