By David Young and Michelle Devane, PA
Leo Varadkar promised new hope and opportunities for the people of Ireland as he became Taoiseach for a second time.
In a planned handover of power at the top of the ruling three-party coalition government in Dublin, Fine Gael leader Mr Varadkar replaced Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin as Taoiseach on Saturday.
TDs in the Dáil voted 87 to 62 to support his appointment in a special sitting.
Mr Varadkar was officially confirmed as Taoiseach at an audience with President Michael D Higgins at his residence in Dublin shortly afterwards.
After receiving the seal of office from the President, Mr Varadkar said: “I’m honoured and privileged to have the opportunity to serve again. And I look forward to getting down to the hard work in the next few hours.”
Mr Martin earlier formally tendered his resignation to Mr Higgins, paving the way for Mr Varadkar to succeed him.
After receiving a standing ovation from TDs on the Government benches when his nomination was confirmed in the Dáil, Mr Varadkar made reference to the foundation of the State 100 years ago as he vowed to deliver for the country’s citizens.
“As taoiseach my mission will be to build on the achievement of 100 years ago, and to work on what needs to be done for this generation and the next,” he said.
“Providing hope and housing, economic opportunities and a fair start for all.
“And so I accept this nomination by the Dáil with humility and resolve, with a burning desire to make good the promise of 100 years ago and to provide new hope and new opportunities for all of our citizens.”
The Fine Gael leader has replaced the Fianna Fáil leader as taoiseach under the terms of the coalition deal struck in 2020.
Mr Martin was accompanied by his wife Mary when he tendered his resignation during an audience with Mr Higgins at the presidential residence at Áras an Uachtaráin on Saturday.
He said it has been “the honour of a lifetime” to serve the public as taoiseach.
Addressing the Dáil at the start of Saturday’s special sitting, he said: “It is both a privilege and a responsibility to serve as head of government in a free and democratic republic.
“I have been deeply conscious of this every day I have held the office of taoiseach. I have sought always to work on behalf of all the Irish people and not just those who support my party and our colleagues in government.”
Mr Martin received a standing ovation from a majority of TDs in the chamber after his speech.
Two of Mr Varadkar’s Fine Gael colleagues then proposed and seconded a motion nominating him as Taoiseach.
Mr Varadkar’s parents, Miriam and Ashok, and his partner, Matthew Barrett, were among those who watched from the gallery. They later joined him at the president’s residence when his appointment was formally confirmed.
During the Dáil session, parties were given an opportunity to comment on the motion.
Mr Martin, speaking for Fianna Fáil, paid tribute to his one-time fierce political rival.
“I want to thank him for his co-operation over the last two and a half years and his dedicated work,” he said.
“The Government has worked on the many enormous pressures, but we’ve succeeded in keeping our focus on moving our country forward. I look forward to maintaining this spirit during the rest of our term.”
When Mr Varadkar’s nomination was confirmed, he returned the compliment to Mr Martin.
“I want to take this opportunity to commend Micheál Martin on the leadership he has shown as taoiseach, for putting the country before politics, and for providing reassurance and hope during difficult times,” he said.
Setting aside almost a century of animosity, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, two parties forged out of Ireland’s Civil War of the 1920s, agreed to share power in 2020 after that year’s inconclusive general election result.
The Green Party also joined the coalition.
Supporting Mr Varadkar’s nomination, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan made a footballing analogy.
“It’s like half time. The captain’s armband will be passed from one to the other,” he said.
“But it will be a similar team and one thing I know, I’m absolutely certain for sure, that Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Micheál Martin, will be running out on Monday morning with the rest of us, determined to do everything we can to serve the Irish people.”
While Fianna Fáil emerged from the 2020 poll narrowly winning the most seats (38), Sinn Féin (which won 37 seats) secured the most first preference votes.
Sinn Féin accused its two main rivals of conspiring to keep it out of power after the general election and has continued to heavily criticise the coalition administration in its role as the main opposition party in the Dáil.
The dynamic between the three big parties is set to dominate the narrative of Irish politics leading up to the next general election, which has to take place by spring 2025.
Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald, the leader of the main opposition party, criticised the Government’s record as she opposed the nomination of Mr Varadkar during Saturday’s Dáil exchanges.
She said the resignation of Mr Martin should trigger a general election as she accused the coalition of being “out of touch, out of ideas and out of time”.
“We should now have a general election because we need a change of government,” she said.
Ms McDonald questioned the outgoing Taoiseach’s claim the government is delivering.
“Well, the rest of us must live in a very different Ireland from you,” she said.
“We live in an Ireland where, during your time leading government, the housing emergency has gotten worse, where the crisis in health has gotten worse, where households struggle to get by.
“And you now pass the baton to Leo Varadkar at a time where more than 11,000 of our people are homeless, including more than 3,000 children. Close to one million people are on treatment waiting lists, many working families queue at food banks to get a hot meal.
“Surely you cannot count this as success?”
Mr Varadkar previously served as taoiseach from 2017 to 2020 at the head of a minority Fine Gael administration which relied on a confidence and supply arrangement with Fianna Fáil to maintain power.
The midterm switch of premiers will also prompt a cabinet reshuffle in Dublin, but there is expected to be minimal movement among the departmental portfolios.
I’m just on my way to the Áras to meet the President.
It’s been the honour of a lifetime to serve you as Taoiseach.
Looking forward to the second phase of this Government. We’ve done a lot, and we’ve still lots to do. pic.twitter.com/dRkbF2lLbx
— Micheál Martin (@MichealMartinTD) December 17, 2022
Mr Martin will become Tánaiste and will also take on a ministerial post.
Mr Varadkar held the enterprise brief when he served as Tánaiste and will vacate that post upon becoming taoiseach.
One scenario could see Mr Martin become Ireland’s foreign affairs minister, a position he held more than a decade ago.
Current Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney could then potentially replace his party leader Mr Varadkar at the helm of the department of enterprise.
The reshuffle details will be announced later on Saturday.
It has already been agreed as part of the coalition agreement that Fine Gael Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe and Fianna Fáil Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath will switch roles.
Cabinet members will also be confirmed in office by the President on Saturday evening before the new-look government is expected to hold its first meeting.