Rapturous applause and Bon Jovi song feature during historic handover of power

Every seat was taken both in the Dáil chamber and the public gallery.
Rapturous applause and Bon Jovi song feature during historic handover of power

By Michelle Devane, PA

Rapturous applause, a mention of a gangland figure and the words of a Bon Jovi song featured during the historic handover of power in the Dáil.

Every seat was taken both in the Dáil chamber and the public gallery above on Saturday morning as Micheál Martin passed on the reigns to Leo Varadkar.

Earlier, the Fianna Fáil leader had made his way from Government Buildings to Áras an Uachtaráin to formally hand in his resignation to President Michael D Higgins.

Leo Varadkar becomes Taoiseach
President Michael D Higgins and Micheál Martin (Maxwell Photography)

He was all smiles as he was accompanied by his wife Mary, unlike when he received the seal of office in June 2020 and pandemic restrictions prevented his family being by his side.

When he returned for a special sitting of the Dáil, the mood was sombre in the chambers as Mr Martin paid tribute to Irish peacekeeping soldier Private Seán Rooney, a member of the Irish Defence Forces who was killed in Lebanon this week.

There was a respectful silence as Mr Martin delivered his speech, saying it had been a privilege to serve as Taoiseach.

The Cork South-Central TD expressed his concern about the tone of political discourse in recent years, reflected on the Government’s handling of the pandemic, delivered a robust defence of the European Union and sharply condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

He thanked his wife Mary and his children for their “unfailing advice, support and encouragement and the occasional criticism  they have given me, particularly my wife Mary who has always tried to keep me on time throughout my life”.

He also gave a special mention to the love of his late parents which he said had “guided” him throughout his life.

The majority of TDs rose to give the outgoing taoiseach sustained applause and a lengthy standing ovation at the close of his speech. People Before Profit TDs remained seated.

There was plenty of praise heaped on Mr Martin and Mr Varadkar by coalition partners as the latter was nominated for the role of Taoiseach.

That ended when the opposition had their say.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald took the opportunity to criticise the Government over its record on housing, homelessness and the cost-of-living crisis.

The jovial atmosphere in the chamber quickly subsided as she outlined the difficulties facing the Irish public.

Government backbenchers were quick to support the Fianna Fáil leader, especially when Ms McDonald spoke of the “the touch paper” being lit.

“You mean the Hutch paper,” government backbenchers quickly retorted.

It drew laughter from across the house.

Last month, the Special Criminal Court heard a claim by former Sinn Féin councillor Jonathan Dowdall during a conversation with Gerry “The Monk” Hutch that Ms McDonald had used the Hutch family for money and votes.

Hutch is on trial over the murder of David Byrne, who was shot dead at the Regency Hotel in 2016, in one of the first deadly attacks of the Hutch-Kinahan gangland feud.

The Sinn Féin leader has denied the allegations.

There were further smiles and laughter when People Before Profit TD Brid Smith said she was reminded of the words of a Bon Jovi song.

“The more things change the more they stay the same…it’s just reality. It’s the same damn song with a different melody,” she said.

“That’s what’s happening here today.”

She described the incoming Taoiseach as the “most ideological of the Tweedledum, Tweedledee choices that we have”.

After Mr Varadkar’s nomination was confirmed, he received a standing ovation from TDs on the government benches. The opposition stayed seated.

Afterwards, TDs lined up to shake hands with the new Taoiseach and outgoing taoiseach.

Outside the front door of Leinster House, Mr Varadkar received further applause, handshakes, and claps on the back by supporters as he left to officially become Taoiseach at Áras an Uachtaráin.

There were many smiles throughout the day, but whether those smiles continue for the remaining Dáil term remains to be seen.

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