On February 20, Thursday, Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar submitted his resignation to president Michael D. Higgins after failing to secure the required parliamentary support to form a government. In the very first session of the newly elected Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Oireachtas (the national legislature), Varadkar’s nomination for the post of the Taoiseach (prime minister) was rejected by a 36-107 vote with 16 abstentions. He came in third among the four nominees.
Among the nominees, Mary Lou McDonald of the Sinn Fein secured the most support with 45 votes. The other two nominees – Fianna Fáil’s Micheal Martin and the Green Party’s Eamon Ryan – came in second and fourth, with 42 and 12 votes, respectively. All nominees have fallen short of the 80 vote mark required in the 160-member Dáil in order to form a government.
Varadkar will continue as the caretaker prime minister until a new government is chosen with adequate parliamentary support. The Dáil was nevertheless able to elect the Ceann Comhairle (the presiding officer of the house). Seán Ó Fearghaíl will continue in that office. The Dáil is scheduled to meet next on March 5, when another vote for government formation shall be held. Both Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil will be talking with the smaller parties and independents, who hold decisive votes, for a potential alliance.
The meteoric rise of Sinn Féin has upended the Irish political landscape which until recently was dominated by the two centrist parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. In the general elections held on February 8 to the Dáil, the left-wing nationalist party secured the largest share of popular support, with 24.5% of the first-preference votes. 37 of its 42 running candidates were elected, marginally behind Fianna Fáil that won 38 seats. Varadkar’s Fine Gael faced a considerable setback, coming in third behind it’s government coalition partner, Fianna Fáil, and the Sinn Féin.
After the vote, Mary Lou McDonald in a statement said: “(t)he people who vote for us aren’t going anywhere.” The statement is being read as a response to Fianna Fáil’s insistence on keeping Sinn Féin out of power, as the Green Party has indicated its openness to talks with Fianna Fáil.