The two political parties that dominated Irish politics for a century today formally ended ‘civil war’ politics.
Months after the February general election in which Irish voters signalled their unhappiness with the political status quo Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party voted for a Fianna Fáil Taoiseach and three-party coalition.
Although the two one-time giants of Irish politics have both seen their vote greatly reduced in recent times – and Sinn Féin got most first preferences – between them, and with the support of the Greens, they represent just more than half of the electorate.
In an unprecedented move for Irish politics – although countries like Israel have rotated the Prime Minister’s job between coalition party leaders – FF and FG will take turns at the top job with Micheál Martin stepping down for Leo Varadkar after two-and-a-half years.
On Saturday at Dublin’s Convention – standing in for Leinster House and the Dáil to allow social distancing between TDs – Mr Varadkar today formally pronounced the end of Ireland’s “Civil War politics”.
On Friday Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party each overwhelmingly endorsed their painstakingly negotiated hammered out in recent weeks.
Mr Varadkar said: “This is a historic occasion. I believe Civil War politics ended a long time ago in our country but today Civil War politics ends in our parliament”.
“Two great parties coming together with another great party, the Green Party, to offer what this country needs, a stable government for the betterment of our country and for the betterment of our world.
“I look forward to the privilege of serving in government with those two parties, as does my party.
“For my own party Fine Gael, it’s an opportunity, a third term in government, something we’ve never been able to do before, three consecutive terms.
“The chance to protect what has been achieved and secured over the past nine years and also a second chance, an opportunity to get right some of the things that we didn’t get right in the years gone by. I’m up for that challenge.”
Mr Varadkar could not resist taking a swipe at Sinn Féin which proved unable to persuade other parties to go into coalition with it: “I know for the course of this debate over the next few hours, we’re going to hear a lot of rhetoric and spin about change.
“As the press officers and the spin doctors said, say change as many times as you can in your speech, keep saying change when you do that video for social media.
“We all know what change means for Sinn Féin. For Sinn Féin change means Sinn Féin ministers in ministerial offices and ministers in the back seat of ministerial cars.
“They’re willing to get into power within Fianna Fáil, they’re willing to get into power with Fine Gael.
“They’re probably willing to get into power with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. That’s what change means to Sinn Féin, but of course when the Green Party do that it’s a betrayal. What a load of spin and nonsense.”
The Green Party leader Eamon Ryan – whose party paid a huge price for the last time it went into coalition with FF more than a decade ago but has since seen its electoral fortunes restored – supported the nomination of FF leader Micheál Martin for Taoiseach.
Mr Ryan said: “Micheal Martin is perfectly qualified to run the country; the Programme for Government provides a good plan; an immediate stimulus.”
He promised his party and the two bigger ones “will get down to work on Monday morning, first thing” especially on climate action and the environment.
“It is action stations time. We need to restore nature and our environment. We are connected to nature just as we are connected to each other.”
Saturday’s Dáil sitting came 140 days after the 8 February General Election. FF and FG agreed in principle to share power as long ago as April, but it took until this month to persuade the Greens and until this week to get the endorsement of the three parties’ rank and file members.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald (above) was the only other nomination for Taoiseach.
Dismissing the coalition as a “marriage of convenience”, said her party won more votes than any other party but Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael had conspired to exclude it from government and ignore the more than half a million people who voted for them.
Recently elected new Labour Party leader Alan Kelly criticised Ms McDonald’s unrealistic nomination for Taoiseach saying: “Sinn Féin is simply going through the motions of appearing to be interested in government. The truth is that today’s nomination is not backed up by an attempt to negotiate a programme for government.
“When you treat your taxpayer with contempt, when you tell them that they can get everything for nothing in a Utopian world.
“I accept Sinn Féin did get a mandate from the people of the Republic, and I respect that but with a mandate comes serious responsibility.
“Responsibility to seek to govern with others with an agreed policy framework and that actually has never existed from them.
“That is why the nomination of Deputy McDonald is unworthy of support today”.
After the division of cabinet portfolios between the three parties the newly appointed ministers were due to receive their Seals of Office from President Michael D Higgins at Dublin Castle rather than Áras an Uachtaráin to allow for social distancing.
The new government led by Micheál Martin, Leo Varadkar and Eamon Ryan – will then return to the Dáil to share out the Taoiseach’s eleven Seanad appointments and start governing.
Faced with the economic impact of Covid-19, the prospect of a ‘no deal Brexit’, Ireland’s huge housing problems and its embattled health services the challenges faced by the new government will be huge.
Ireland’s new Cabinet
Micheál Martin (Fianna Fáil)
Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment
Leo Varadkar (Fine Gael)
Minister for Foreign Affairs & Defence
Simon Coveney (FG)
Minister for Finance
Paschal Donohoe (FG)
Minister for Public Expenditure & Reform
Michael McGrath (FF)
Minister for Climate Action, Communication Networks and Transport
Eamon Ryan (Greens)
Minister for Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sports and the Gaeltacht
Catherine Martin (Greens)
Minister for Health
Stephen Donnelly (FF)
Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage
Darragh O’Brien (FF)
Minister for Agriculture and the Marine
Barry Cowen (FF)
Minister for Education
Norma Foley (FF)
Minister for Justice
Helen McEntee (FG)
Minister for Children, Disability Equality and Integration
Roderic O’Gorman (Greens)
Minister for Social Protection, Community & Rural Development and the Islands
Heather Humphreys (FG)
Minister for Higher Education, Innovation and Research
Simon Harris (FG)
Minister of State at the Department of Climate Action attending Cabinet
Hildegarde Naughton (FG)
Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture attending Cabinet
Pippa Hackett (Greens)
Government Chief Whip and Minister of State attending Cabinet
Dara Calleary (FF)