Micheal Martin elected new Irish Prime Minister after coalition agreement

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Dublin (AFP)

Micheal Martin was elected new Irish Prime Minister on Saturday after his center-right party Fianna Fail reached a historic coalition agreement with longtime rivals Fine Gael and the Green Party.

The election of Martin, who replaced Leo Varadkar as Taoiseach in a special session of Dail’s Parliament, comes after months of party-to-party negotiations following the February elections.

“To be elected to the Taoiseach post of a free republic is one of the highest honors one can receive,” Martin said in parliament.

He said the most immediate problem Ireland faced was the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

“At the same time, we know that there are other major challenges that we faced before the pandemic and that remain to be overcome,” he said.

These challenges included affordable housing, hospital wait times and climate change, said the new chief.

Ireland is also facing economic fallout from the virus as well as a possible Brexit without agreement.

The 59-year-old political veteran then received the seal of office from the President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins.

Martin is expected to announce ministers in his new administration later today.

He succeeds the center-right Varadkar of Fine Gael in a historic reconciliation of Ireland’s two main parties – and its sworn political rivals – which dates back to the founding of the state a century ago.

Varadkar said the agreement meant that “today, the politics of civil war ends in our parliament.”

“Two major parties are coming together with another major party, the Green Party, to deliver what this country needs, stable government for the good of our country and for the good of our world,” added the outgoing Prime Minister.

Under the terms of the agreement, Fine Gael is expected to return to the Taoiseach post in late 2022.

– Sinn Fein excluded –

The two center-right parties needed the support of the Greens to have a working majority in the Irish Parliament, their collective total totaling up to 85 seats in the 160-seat chamber.

Fianna Fail won the most seats in the February elections with 38, while Fine Gael won 35 seats and the Greens 12.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan spoke of “tough decisions” ahead for the coalition, particularly with regard to the economy.

The political agreement notably excluded Republicans Sinn Fein from power.

The single marginal party won the popular vote with 24.5% of the first preference – and claimed 37 seats – to become the second largest force in parliament and is expected to become the main opposition party.

The coalition agreement angered members of Sinn Fein and party leader Mary Lou McDonald, who told Dail that the coalition was born out of “necessity not ambition.”

“Faced with the prospect of losing their grip on power, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael surrounded the cars,” she added.

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