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What exactly happens when the new Dáil sits on Thursday?

It’s all change in Leinster House following the election. So what happens now?

THE ELECTION IS over and all 158 seats in the 32nd Dáil have been filled.

But unlike 2011, the outcome from this election, in terms of the next Taoiseach and the next government, is far from clear.

The electorate voiced their clear displeasure at the outgoing Fine Gael and Labour government and voted for Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, independents and smaller parties in their droves.

seat count

The two largest parties in the new Dáil – Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil – are now trying to hammer out a way forward. It will likely involve either one of them leading a minority government, a grand coalition of the two, or a second election.

But before all of that there’s quite a bit to get through when the new Dáil sits for the first time on Thursday at 10.30am.

New TDs and returning TDs need to be proclaimed

In the first act of the day, the Dáil clerk Peter Finnegan will read out the proclamation from President Michael D Higgins convening the 32nd Dáil. He will then read the report on the issuing of writs and the names of each of the TDs elected for each of the 40 constituencies.

A new Ceann Comhairle must be elected

Seán Barrett has decided he’s had enough after five years of shouting and roaring at truculent TDs and trying to keep order. He is not seeking the position again. So a new Dáil chair must to be elected.

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The position will be filled by a secret ballot of TDs. Previously it was effectively in the gift of the government of the day, but this was changed under reforms introduced by the outgoing government earlier this year.

Ceann Comhairle carries the considerable perk of automatic re-election to the next Dáil. Any TD is able to stand for the position provided they have been proposed by seven other deputies. These are the TDs in contention for the position.

Nominations close at 6pm on Wednesday. TDs can only nominate one candidate. The election process will take place after all TDs’ names have been read into the Dáil record.

How does the election work? 

If there is only one candidate nominated then this TD’s name will be announced and put to the Dáil. It’s unlikely a vote will be needed in this instance. So the question will be passed and the new Dáil Ceann Comhairle will be deemed elected.

20/9/2013. Culture Festivals Nights Who will be sitting this chair come Thursday? Source: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

But if there 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.

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 a division then a vote must take place, but if there are fewer than this then the candidate is formally elected.

What happens then?

The first thing the new Ceann Comhairle must do is seek nominations for the position of Taoiseach. In order for the Taoiseach to be elected they must command the support of the majority of the Dáil.

On Thursday, Fine Gael’s newly-elected TD Noel Rock will formally propose that Enda Kenny be re-nominated for the role. But Fianna Fáil has other ideas and its newly-elected Mayo TD Lisa Chambers will propose party leader Micheál Martin.

Sinn Féin will propose Gerry Adams for the role. The Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit group has also hinted it may put forward a nominee.

screenshot.1457444600.80763 Source: www.thejournal.ie

The Dáil will debate the merits of the candidates and then TDs will be asked to vote on each candidate. If the first candidate is defeated, they vote on the second one, and so on until we have a Taoiseach.

How will everyone vote? 

Labour will, for one time only, support Kenny which gives him 57 votes when you include the 50 Fine Gael TDs. Micheál Martin will have 44 votes from his party. Gerry Adams will have 23 votes from Sinn Féin. The destination of the votes of the large bloc of independents and smaller parties is unclear, although it’s thought many will abstain.

In short, no candidate is expected to achieve sufficient support from the majority of TDs, therefore no one will be elected Taoiseach.

What happens then? 

Assuming this happens, the Dáil will adjourn, by agreement, until another date. With the curtailed St Patrick’s Day ministerial exodus and Easter, this is likely to mean the Dáil will not sit again until April.

screenshot.1457446100.67329 Source: www.thejournal.ie

Enda Kenny’s failure to win the confidence of the majority of TDs also means that he must visit the President and formally tender his resignation under Article 28.10 of the Constitution. He then officially becomes caretaker Taoiseach of a caretaker government.

How long does this caretaker government last? 

There is nothing in the Constitution about time limits. The caretaker government can continue for as long as the negotiations between the various parties do.  All parties expect that after Thursday the real deal-making begins.

This will likely include the two biggest parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, holding discussions. This is expected to take weeks. The longer it goes on the more pressure both parties will come under to do a deal. But there’s no guarantee that they will.

Has this happened before? 

Charlie Haughey Two former caretaker taoisigh Source: RollingNews.ie

Yes. In 1989, the Dáil defeated all motions proposing individuals as Taoiseach, including the incumbent Charlie Haughey. The Fianna Fáil leader tried to claim there was no immediate onus on him to resign, until Labour’s Dick Spring insisted there was under the Constitution.

Haughey duly resigned as Spring threatened to go to the High Court. Nearly a month later Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats formed an unlikely coalition and Haughey was re-elected Taoiseach.

In December 1992, following the general election, Fianna Fáil’s Albert Reynolds (the outgoing Taoiseach), Fine Gael’s John Bruton and Labour’s Dick Spring were all proposed but all failed to get sufficient support.

Reynolds resigned and assumed the caretaker role. The 27th Dáil continued to sit and there were further failed attempts to elect a Taoiseach on 22 December and 5 January.

Ongoing talks between Fine Gael and Labour over forming a government floundered over Dick Spring’s desire to be a rotating taoiseach with John Bruton. Eventually, Fianna Fáil and Labour hammered out another unlikely coalition deal and Reynolds was re-elected Taoiseach on 12 January.

So what’s going to happen now? 

8/12/2015. Oireachtas Tree lights These two are probably going to have to talk Source: Sasko Lazarov

There are four likely scenarios but a multitude of ways in which we arrive at them. In short, there will either be:

  • A grand coalition between the two parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. 
  • A Fine Gael minority government with the support, on a case-by-case basis, of other TDs in the Dáil, possibly including Fianna Fáil. 
  • Fianna Fáil minority government with the support, on a case-by-case basis, of other TDs in the Dáil, possibly including Fine Gael.
  • A second election in the event that no government can be formed by any of the parties. 

We’ll discuss these various permutations in more detail in a later article.

If a government is formed then the Dáil sits again to elect a new Taoiseach, who then goes to Áras an Uachtaráin to be formally appointed. They then form a cabinet of ministers which are subject to Dáil debate and approval.

Read: Michael Noonan ‘presumes’ talks with Fianna Fáil will begin after Thursday

Read: Sinn Féin will nominate Gerry Adams for Taoiseach this Thursday

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About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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