On February 26, 2016, Ireland held a general election to form the next government but over two months later we are still functioning under a caretaker government with public patience wearing extremely thin for the politicians they have just elected. Why have the newly-elected Teachtaí Dála (TDs) failed to form a government, what are the main issues of contention and when will we finally have a new Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister)?
What has happened in the last two months?
Depending on who you talk to, some would say discussions while others would say a lot of hot air.
Two votes for a Taoiseach were held before the two largest parties finally bit the bullet and sat down for talks at the beginning of April, during which now acting Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny offered his Fianna Fáil rival Mícheál Martin a partnership government.
In the first vote for Taoiseach, all four candidates who put their name forward - Kenny, Martin, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams, and Richard Boyd Barrett form Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit Party (Dun Laoghaire) - each failed to secure enough votes to be elected.
In the second vote, Adams chose to abstain from the nomination process calling it a pretense and a waste of time when it was obvious no candidate had enough votes to secure government leadership. In the second vote, Kenny also lost the vote of the Labor party TDs as it became clear they will not be joining their former coalition partners in the next government.
When Fianna Fáil rejected the partnership government on April 7, Martin stated that they did not believe it was in the public interest but that the party would not be averse to supporting a Fine Gael-led minority government.
There has since been a further vote for Taoiseach with Kenny winning the vote of Independent TD Katherine Zappone on top of his own party TDs.
What is currently happening?
Although it seemed that we were back to square one following the partnership government rejection, this week, negotiating parties from FF and FG succeeded in striking a “confidence and supply” deal which commits FF support of a FG-led minority government until the end of 2018.
As such FF, will support, or at the very least abstain, from motions of confidence in FG or budgetary matters until this time.
With this in place, it now falls to Kenny to convince enough Independent TDs to support his nomination for Taoiseach to get him past the finishing post when another vote is held. He will need at least 58 TDs to do so.
What are the main issues up for discussion?
Water. Water. Water. After years of protests against the implementation of water charges, one of main topics of discussion around the negotiating table has been just that, with many believing they have now been all but eradicated by terms laid out in the FG and FF deal.
According to a Fianna Fáil statement issued on Tuesday night, “Water charges will be suspended for nine months beginning from July. They will not be reintroduced unless it is by the will of the Dáil. This nine month suspension can be extended, if requested, by the Special Oireachtas Committee.”
One can only feel sorry for the Labor political party who were all but eradicated in this last election because of the decisions made on water charges, amongst other things, while they were in coalition with FG, decisions that the larger party are now backtracking on.
According to the FF statement, other issues agreed upon included: “Our request to prioritise spending on public services before tax cuts on a 2:1 basis. They have also agreed to prioritise cuts to the USC for low and middle income earners. We also negotiated an extension of mortgage interest relief, commitments to tackle variable rate mortgages and also an increase of up to 15% on rent supplement and HAP in targeted areas for families who rent.”
Why is it taking so long to form a government?
Some of the main problems come from contests raged between the main parties Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil almost 100 years ago. Both parties found their roots on either side of the divide in the Irish Civil War and the fact that they even went into talks with each other in the first place was an historic occasion.
It is also believed that there is no love lost between their leaders Enda Kenny and Mícheál Martin. On meeting with Kenny to inform him that Fianna Fáil would not accept a partnership government, it was reported that talks lasted 15 minutes until they were called off.
There is also a logistics issue in that with no clear winner in the last election (FG won 50 seats, FF won 44) it meant that TDs were forced to look at government structures which have not been used in the Irish system before, but are common throughout Europe. Historically in Ireland, governments have been formed by one party or through a coalition with one smaller party. With Sinn Féin essentially writing themselves out of talks, and other parties not wishing to go into government with them either, this option of a coalition or a one-party government was simply not feasible.
As such, the first confidence and supply deal has now been struck, although this is not the first minority-led government in the island’s history.
If we look back to when coalitions first became necessary to form a government in Ireland, they also took time to work out and did not always succeed when they were formed. As Ireland looks more like a European model with the spreading of seats among a greater number of parties, there will be teething problems as long discussion (though possibly not as long as this has taken) will be required.
When will we have a government?
It is believed that a further vote for Taoiseach will take place in the Dáil today but Fine Gael will be under pressure to find votes from Independents to make up the final figures to elect their leader Enda Kenny.
Speaking at a New York Friends of Sinn Féin event last week, Adam also claimed that a government would be formed this week and that it would not have the support of Sinn Féin if it was.
Cracks are already appearing in the deal struck between FF and FG, however, with members of the FF negotiation team claiming that FG’s team were more interesting in the bar than in striking deals, that they obeyed the orders of civil servant,s or they did not understand the issues of Irish people in the real world. The comments have not best pleased the FG team.
Political players to watch out for in the next few days.
Enda Kenny: The caretaker Taoiseach has promised his party that he will step aside if he fails to get FG into government. With public patience and support for government extremely low, the last thing to rally support right now would be to call another election. Kenny must ensure he has the support of the right Independents within the next few days.
Independent Alliance: This group of Independent TDs hold the cards right now. Some criticize involving so many Independents in government, believing that they will only look out for the interests of their local areas, but negotiations are underway nonetheless.
Very tough talking at govt negotiations today . Thursday vote for Taoiseach looking less likely despite huge Independent Alliance effort— Shane Ross (@Shane_RossTD) May 3, 2016
Mícheál Martin: If the deal holds than Martin’s role in forming this government is complete but it will be interesting to see if he will encourage Independents to support a Kenny vote.
Gerry Adams: The Sinn Féin President has not really played any important or useful part in the government formation but you can be sure that he’ll have something to say about it.
"In deciding to prop up a Fine Gael administration, Fianna Fáil have forfeited their leadership of the opposition." - @GerryAdamsSF— Sinn Féin (@sinnfeinireland) April 29, 2016
Joan Burton: The Labour leader has stated that the leadership of her party will be reassessed once a government is formed. With it looking increasingly likely it will happen this week, is this the end of Burton’s time at the helm? With Labor seats falling from 33 to just 7 in the last election, it seems more than possible. Deputy leader Alan Kelly and Minister of State Sean Sherlock are most likely to contest.
Given all the delays in forming government and limited dail sittings can we take it they'll only have 3 weeks off in August? #somechance— Matt Cooper (@cooper_m) May 3, 2016
Varadkar: Its important FG continues to stand over its policies, but a minority govt does not command Dáil majority https://t.co/6ghvLYGdia— RTÉ News (@rtenews) April 28, 2016