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Reality bites for Martin as he shares with Adams

MICHEAL Martin will be forced to share the frontbench of Opposition with Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams in the 31st Dail.

As the power of Fianna Fail wanes, the outgoing government party members face five years of sitting beside their biggest political enemies.

Oireachtas staff have put to the final touches to the sitting arrangements in the new Dail, with Fianna Fail being forced to accept that they are now on a par with the Shinners.

Brian Lenihan and Eamon O Cuiv will not be competing for air space with Mary Lou McDonald and Pearse Doherty.

Mr Martin will also have to lead his depleted team on a humiliating walk of shame across the floor of the Dail.

A Fianna Fail source said: "It has been a very undignified fall from grace and we have to face up to the new reality.

"Nobody is happy that we will be sharing space with Sinn Fein but they won't overtake us as the main opposition. That could never happen."

There will effectively be three main Opposition parties in the new Dail after a group of 16 Independents officially decided to form a so-called technical group last night.

Finian McGrath, Shane Ross and Joe Higgins will act as spokespersons for the makeshift group that also includes Luke 'Ming' Flanagan, Mick Wallace, Maureen O'Sullivan, Mattie McGrath and Richard Boyd Barrett. One of three frontmen will have the opportunity to put questions to Enda Kenny each week, along with Micheal Martin and Gerry Adams.

"Everybody in the room was hungry for speaking time because we have a great bunch of fresh Independent TDs. But the initial consensus was for the initial period of leaders' questions to be handled by the people with a bit of experience," said Finian McGrath.

Shunted

However, three Independents -- Micheal Healy Rae, Michael Lowry and Noel Grealish -- have opted out of the group and are expected to negotiate speaking time directly with the new Taoiseach.

As the most senior serving minister, Brian Lenihan will be initially seated in the Taoiseach's chair today because Brian Cowen is no longer a TD.

However, Mr Lenihan's moment in charge will be short-lived as he and his 19 party colleagues are shunted on to the opposition benches. Prior to official proceedings many of the Dail's old and new deputies will gather for an inter-denominational service.

President Mary McAleese, Mr Cowen, members of the outgoing Cabinet and representatives of State bodies will attend St Ann's Church on Dawson Street.

Some 76 of the 166 TDs to take their place in the House today were not there when the Dail was dissolved.