A bitter personal row between Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald and Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin marred the first day’s sitting of the 33rd Dáil, which failed to elect a Taoiseach.
As a result, Leo Varadkar tendered his resignation to President Michael D Higgins last night before flying to Brussels to attend a special EU summit of leaders as acting Taoiseach.
He and his ministers will remain in place until a new Government is formed.
In the Dáil, Mr Martin and Ms McDonald traded sharp blows across the floor.
Mr Martin was highly critical of Sinn Féin in his speech after the vote, highlighting victims of republican violence.
“The fundamental issue that we do not believe that Sinn Fein operates to the same democratic standards held to by every other party in this place,” said Mr Martin.
“This is not simply about the past — the past is important and Sinn Fein’s efforts to legitimise a murderous sectarian campaign keeps alive a narrative which is used by dissidents to legitimise their campaigns — but this is more fundamentally about today. It is about practices which any party which shares government with Sinn Fein must accept as normal.
“Every single time an issue arises about the behaviour of people associated with the Provisional’s movement and today’s Sinn Féin the response is to attack and dismiss.”
Ms McDonald hit back in emphatic terms.
She said she had a problem dealing with Mr Martin when he “sat around the Cabinet table with people who were subsequently jailed for corruption”.
In the votes for taoiseach, Ms McDonald secured the most support in a drawn-out series of votes where she, Mr Varadkar, Mr Martin and the Green Party’s Eamon Ryan all put themselves forward for taoiseach.
After speeches from TDs supporting the different leaders for the positions, voting got underway.
Ms McDonald came out on top with 45 votes for taoiseach, 84 against and 29 abstentions. She was followed by Mr Martin, who won 41 votes, but saw 97 deputies opposing him for the role and 19 abstaining.
Mr Varadkar came third and received 36 votes, 107 against and 16 abstentions. Mr Ryan won 12 votes, was opposed by 115 deputies while 28 abstained.
The Dáil will meet next on Thursday, March 5.
During the day, it emerged a new technical grouping of nine TDs has been formed which could play a crucial role in the coming talks regarding the formation of a new government.
The group comprises Cathal Berry, Sean Canney, Peter Fitzpatrick, Noel Grealish, Verona Murphy, Matt Shanahan, Michael Lowry, Peadar Toibin, and Denis Naughten, as convener.
Earlier in the day, Sean O Fearghail was re-elected by 130 votes to 28 as the Dáil’s Ceann Comhairle, seeing off Roscommon independent TD Denis Naughten.