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History made in damp squib makeshift Dail as Martin elected Taoiseach

Dublin’s Convention Centre failed to provide an atmosphere due to ongoing coronavirus restrictions.

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Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin after the 33rd sitting of the new Dail in the Convention Centre, Dublin, where the vote for a new Taoiseach took place (PA)

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin after the 33rd sitting of the new Dail in the Convention Centre, Dublin, where the vote for a new Taoiseach took place (PA)

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin after the 33rd sitting of the new Dail in the Convention Centre, Dublin, where the vote for a new Taoiseach took place (PA)

The much-heralded ending of civil war politics between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael with the election of FF leader Micheal Martin as Taoiseach struggled to live up to its advanced billing.

The coalition government formed between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael with the Green Party brings to an end the most enduring – and, to many – the most baffling rivalry in Irish politics.

With 140 days having passed since February’s inconclusive general election result, 160 TDs gathered in Dublin’s Convention Centre to officially elect Mr Martin as Taoiseach.

The inclement weather and the cavernous centre where the vote was held stifled any modicum of atmosphere despite the sense that history was being made.

The fact it was held on a Saturday in a centre better known for holding dull business conferences instead of Leinster House, made it all feel like a damp squib.

A group of Debenhams workers who lost their jobs protesting in the driving rain outside also gave a hint to the Government of the tumultuous economic waters they will have to navigate.

Meanwhile, in the chamber, TDs had to sit in party groupings, two metres apart while members of the press were up in the nosebleed section.

“It’s taken us a long time to get here,” quipped the chairperson of the parliament, Sean O’Fearghail, as he opened proceedings.

Outgoing taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar could not resist a parting shot at Sinn Fein, taking aim at their election slogan of “change”.

“We all know what change means for Sinn Fein — Sinn Fein ministers in the backseat of ministerial cars.

“That’s what change means to Sinn Fein, but of course when the Green Party does that, it’s a betrayal. What a load of spin and nonsense.”

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Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald, during the 33rd sitting of the new Dail in the Convention Centre, Dublin, where the vote for a new Taoiseach took place (Maxwell Photography)

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald, during the 33rd sitting of the new Dail in the Convention Centre, Dublin, where the vote for a new Taoiseach took place (Maxwell Photography)

PA

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald, during the 33rd sitting of the new Dail in the Convention Centre, Dublin, where the vote for a new Taoiseach took place (Maxwell Photography)

It was a bittersweet day for Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald – just four months ago her party won a record 37 seats –  an increase of 14 on the 2016 election.

Flanked by deputy SF leader Michelle O’Neill and TD Pearse Doherty, she said other parties may have conspired to keep Sinn Fein out of government, but they cannot stop change.

She has the distinction of being the first female leader of the Irish opposition, and pledged to become Ireland’s first female taoiseach one day.

The speeches ahead of the vote varied from effusive praise for Micheal Martin, peppered with quotes from Theodore Roosevelt and Shakespeare, to the view of left-wing TD Paul Murphy, who said the incoming Government would be the “most hated in history”.

One of the only laughs of the day came when Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice quoted an Irish proverb – “May the road rise up to meet you” to wish Martin good luck.

“However, the Greens won’t allow us to build any roads,” he said.

While the outcome of the vote was a foregone conclusion, the spectacle of Leo Varadkar and all of the Fine Gael TDs voting “yes” to Mr Martin becoming Taoiseach was one many never thought they would see.

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Fine Gael leader and outgoing taoiseach Leo Varadkar (Maxwell Photography)

Fine Gael leader and outgoing taoiseach Leo Varadkar (Maxwell Photography)

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Fine Gael leader and outgoing taoiseach Leo Varadkar (Maxwell Photography)

As Leo Varadkar’s disembodied voice echoed across the cavernous convention centre to vote yes, history was made and civil war politics officially ended.

After the anti-climatic vote, Mr Martin descended the elevators of the Convention Centre to a round of applause from a socially-distanced group of TDs and press.

His family could not travel up from Cork to congratulate him on the biggest moment of his political career due to the Covid-19 restrictions, so his niece who lives in Dublin had to do the honours.

With none of the usual shaking of many hands, Mr Martin gave a quick wave to the snappers and left to finally receive his Seal of Office from the President.

PA