New Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny has a clear mission ahead of him: Negotiate better terms to the country's EU-IMF bailout. But despite his record majority in parliament, he faces an uphill battle on the continent.
Fine Gael's coalition with Labour has a record majority
Ireland's new parliament elected Enda Kenny, leader of the center-right Fine Gael party, as its new prime minister on Wednesday, with a record majority of 117 votes to 27.
Kenny said he felt "deep gratitude and deep humility for the honor" of leading Ireland out of its current economic crisis, for which it had to accept an 85 billion-euro ($118 billion) bailout last November from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.
"This current crisis is the darkest hour before the dawn," he said. "We do stand on the threshold of fundamental change. But there is equally another task, and that is the task of renewal."
Enda Kenny's Fine Gael now has more seats than it has ever had
Fine Gael is to form a coalition government with the center-left Labour Party, which also ran on a platform of negotiating more favorable terms to Ireland's bailout. While a cut in interest rates is likely, the government faces an uphill battle at convincing EU member states to give any concessions.
Kenny also revealed his cabinet on Wednesday, appointing fellow Fine Gael member Michael Noonan as finance minister. Labour leader Eamon Gilmore is to become deputy prime minister as well as the minister of foreign affairs and trade.
Parliamentary elections on February 25 handed a resounding defeat to the conservative Fianna Fail party, which has dominated Irish politics for eight decades. Their seats in parliament dropped from 78 to 20 - their lowest number ever.
Fine Gael now holds 76 seats and Labour 37, both record highs. Their coalition makes up the largest parliamentary majority in Irish history.
The coalition agreement aims to reduce Ireland's budget deficit to three percent of gross domestic product by 2015. The deficit exploded to an astounding 32 percent after the government bailed out several Irish banks on the verge of collapse.
The new government has also pledged to continue the austerity measures for 2011-2012 set out by the previous government.
Author: Andrew Bowen (AP, dpa)
Editor: Rob Turner