Seventy days after the general election, in a historic Dáil vote, Enda Kenny became the first ever Fine Gael leader to be elected to a second consecutive term as Taoiseach. This is a minority led Government, supported by a number of independent TDs. The Government has the lowest level of parliamentary support in the history of the Dáil, in contrast to the outgoing administration which commanded the largest parliamentary majority. This will dramatically change the process of policy-making and legislating in the new term.
An agreement with Fianna Fáil will facilitate the operation of the minority government. This includes provision for a new commission to make recommendations on the funding of water services, the continuation of the Lansdowne Road agreement on public service pay, and acceptance of the principle of a two-to-one split in extra resources in favour of public services over tax cuts.
As part of the deal Fianna Fáil has agreed to abstain in the election of Taoiseach, the nomination of ministers and also the reshuffling of ministers if and when that arises. The party will also facilitate the passing of budgets and will vote against or abstain on any motions of no confidence in the government or its ministers.
The new cabinet includes some notable changes from within Fine Gael and a number of independent TDs have been given key ministerial portfolios. This presents a new dynamic for those, Ibec included, whose objective it is to influence government policy. The reliance of the Government on the support of independents, along with the additional obstacles to securing parliamentary support for legislation, will undoubtedly create difficulties when it comes to agreeing and implementing coherent government policy.
However, the new Government is broadly business friendly and Ibec is optimistic that it will work closely with business as a stakeholder. There is a concern, however, that populist and local priorities will take precedence over important strategic but often more divisive issues, where it is more difficult to garner the necessary Dáil support.
The genesis and nature of the new government provides a particular opportunity to reform how the parliamentary process works. Dáil committees, which will be announced over the coming weeks, look set to play a more pivotal role. The terms of reference and composition of committees will be critical in how they operate, and they will be an important focus of Ibec lobbying work. The Government has committed to allowing all opposition (non-money) Bills that pass second stage to progress to Committee stage within 10 working weeks. While many will not proceed further, they may well benefit from the public platform offered by a committee hearing.
It is likely that Bills will be open to amendment more than ever before and the minority-Government will be less likely to oppose all changes due to the difficulty in ultimately getting legislation passed in the Dáil. The Seanad is expected to have a reduced role due to a lack of a Government majority. However, it can still delay bills.
Fine Gael: Unchanged
Enda Kenny remains Taoiseach, the first ever Fine Gael leader to be elected to a second consecutive term. The Taoiseach will also take on the role of Minister for Defence. Michael Noonan remains in Finance and Charlie Flanagan in Foreign Affairs. Frances Fitzgerald remains as Justice Minister and has also been appointed Tánaiste. Heather Humphreys portfolio has been extended to Regional Development, as well as Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.
Fine Gael: Changed
Simon Coveney has been given responsibility for housing with the creation of a new ministerial portfolio of Housing, Planning and Local Government. Leo Varadkar has been appointed as Minister for Social Protection. Richard Bruton is Minister for Education and Skills. Paschal Donohoe is Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and Simon Harris is Minister for Health.
First time Fine Gael Ministers
Mary Mitchell O’Connor has been appointed as Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. Michael Creed has been appointed to Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
First time Independent Ministers
- Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport: Shane Ross
- Department of Children and Youth Affairs: Katherine Zappone
- Department of Communications, Climate Change and Natural Resources: Denis Naughten