Enda Kenny failed to be re-elected as Taoiseach (prime minister of Ireland) when Dáil Éireann, the main house of the Irish parliament, met for the first time since the inconclusive general election of February 26.
However, the leader of the Fine Gael party and his government will continue in a caretaker capacity until Dáil deputies decide by a majority vote that Kenny himself or another member should occupy the position on an official basis.
Although he failed to get a majority in the House, Kenny's 57 votes - including seven from the Labour Party - put him ahead of his main rival, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, who was supported by 43 Dáil deputies.
Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams received 24 votes and hard-left candidate Richard Boyd Barrett got nine, out of a total Dáíl membership of 158.
— RTÉ News (@rtenews) March 10, 2016
In his role as acting Taoiseach, Kenny will be traveling to the US for the St Patrick's festivities, which take place next week. The following week will be taken up mainly with commemorative events to mark the centenary of the Easter Rising of 1916.
Thus it is unlikely that there will be any serious public moves to establish a government until the beginning of April, although the Dáíl is scheduled to sit again on March 22.
There has been considerable speculation about an unprecedented coalition between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, two parties which trace their origins to the bitter Irish Civil War over the terms of the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty which set up the current Irish state.
Another possibility is that Fine Gael could remain in office as a minority government, with Fianna Fáil supporting them from outside. That would probably be a less-stable option which would lead to another general election in short order.
Fianna Fáil doubled its Dáil representation in last month's general election while Fine Gael lost about a quarter of its Teachtaí Dála (Dáil deputies).
There will be pressure on both parties from elements in the business community and the media to agree a stable arrangement which will ensure that Ireland's economic recovery is not put at risk.
However, there would be serious problems at grassroots level in Fianna Fáíl at any proposal to form a joint administration with the "Blueshirts," as some of them like to call Fine Gael.
Fianna Fáíl is committed to holding a special party conference to decide on any coalition proposal. A senior Fianna Fáil activist predicted that his party would split if there was any move towards a "grand alliance" with Fine Gael.
— Philip Bromwell (@philipbromwell) March 10, 2016
Others believe, however, that a marriage of convenience is by no means out of the question, especially if the two party leaders agreed to rotate the job of Taoiseach between them with Micheál Martin perhaps being allowed to go first.
One of the difficulties in such an arrangement is that it would leave Sinn Féin as the main opposition party. In order to prevent this happening, Fianna Fáil could remain in opposition while allowing Fine Gael to hold onto office for the time being.
The problem with this is that Fine Gael would have the plum jobs as government ministers while senior people in Fianna Fáíl would have nothing.
One very significant job that has gone Fianna Fáil's way is the position of Ceann Comhairle (speaker) of the Dáíl which went to the Kildare TD, Seán Ó Fearghail. For the first time the job was filled by a secret ballot of Dáil deputies and it is thought that some Fine Gael deputies backed Ó Fearghail as a means of reducing the numbers on the Fianna Fáil benches.
New Ceann Comhairle Sean O' Fearghail take his oath of office pic.twitter.com/x4sFGWNDj5— Alan O'Reilly (@saloreilly) March 10, 2016
In a colorful intervention in the Dáil debate, leader of the minority Green Party, Eamon Ryan recalled how two grandparents of his were on opposite sides of the Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil divide: "They hated each other's politics but they got into bed together for 50-odd years and it seemed to work as a relationship despite their dramatic differences."
Fianna Fáil deputy, Timmy Dooley, was reported to have been subject to an attempted physical attack outside Leinster House by a protester who grabbed his tie and tried to swing a punch. The Clare TD was unhurt.