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Can President Higgins bang political heads together to form a government?

The President can refuse a dissolution request when the Taoiseach does not have the support of the majority of the Dáil.

Image: PA WIRE

IT’S BEEN JUST over six weeks since the general election and we still find ourselves in a political stalemate.

If Thursday’s vote in the Dáil fails to deliver the country a Taoiseach, Enda Kenny may well make a trip to Áras an Uachtaráin to ask President D Higgins to dissolve the Dáil.

However, as Kenny does not have the support of the majority, the president has the power to refuse to dissolve the 32nd Dáil.

So, is there a possibility President Higgins will address both houses of the Oireachtas?

President Higgins has no constitutional role in helping to form a government. Once he refuses to dissolve the Dáil what he might do next comes rather unclear.

Politics Professor from University College Cork, Dr Theresa Reidy said that once the president refuses, it is a grey area as there are no specific procedures written down.

One option is he could ask the main political parties to reconvene talks, or he could ask other party leaders if they can make up the numbers to form a government.

Addressing the Dáil

This could be done in a written statement or he could invoke his right to address the Dáil.

By doing this, Reidy says he might hope to come up with a mechanism for the parties to work together.

“I think President Higgins is a longstanding politician with a really good knowledge of the Constitution, “said Reidy.

In her view, Higgins would not address both houses of the Oireachtas simply for the optics of it and would only do so if he felt it would give a meaningful push towards government formation.

Has this ever happened before? 

No, there is no precedent for it. However, in 1994, it came pretty close to being exercised when Mary Robinson was President of Ireland.

It resulted in the formation of the Rainbow Coalition, under John Bruton.

Dr Reidy says if President Higgins refuses to dissolve the Dáil, there could be other options open to him.

In other countries, when such a situation arises, a formateur is appointed by either a president or monarch to facilitate government negotiations.

The person is generally independent and removed from the situation and is there to chair discussions where there are difficulties in forming a government.

While there is no mention of appointing a formateur in the Irish Constitution, Dr Reidy said it is not an idea that is banned – it is simply omitted from any legislation.

‘Delicate balancing act’

She said this may well be a viable option for President Higgins who must strike a “delicate balancing act” with his role, which he most likely does not want to damage by becoming too involved in the political stalemate.

Speaking on RTE’s The Week in Politics, veteran Fianna Fáil TD and senator, Martin Mansergh, noted that the prospect of a two hour “oration” from the president may focus the minds of the political parties.

If minds aren’t focused there will be another vote for an Taoiseach, however, if Kenny loses a fourth vote, it would be difficult to see how he could carry on as leader of Fine Gael, which would throw another spanner in the works.

While some predict we are entering the end game, with Minister for Health Leo Varadkar already saying this can’t go on for another six weeks, it is far from clear what shape the next government will take.

Read: FG and FF are FINALLY going to talk about forming a minority government today>

Read: Who would you support to lead a minority government?>

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