Under a coalition agreement, he will hold office until 2022, when he will revert to his predecessor, Leo Varadkar. So who is the new head of the Irish government, and what drives him?
Described as a longtime taoiseach-in-attendant, Micheal Martin is finally coming up to this office today … for a while. Her party Fianna Fail entered an unprecedented coalition with its main rivals Fine Gael, as well as the smaller Green Party, to form the new Irish government.
This means that the 59-year-old avoids the indignity of remaining the only Fianna Fail leader who does not become a taoiseach. Widely regarded as a competent and cunning career politician, he spent nine years rebuilding his party after suffering a humiliating electoral defeat in 2011 – the worst election result in the history of the Irish state. Now he’s bringing them back to power.
His constituency colleague in Cork South-Central (Ireland has multi-seat constituencies), Michael McGrath, says that Martin is a “great politician”.
McGrath said, “He won eight general elections here at the local level.
“He’s tough, he’s incredibly hard-working, he doesn’t take anything for granted. He is deeply involved in the public service. When Fianna Fail suffered a catastrophic electoral defeat in 2011, he had the opportunity to walk away. But he chose not to do it, he chose to rebuild the party from scratch, and I think he did an incredible job. ”
Micheal Martin in brief:
- Former Cork teacher, 59
- Served as Cabinet Minister in previous governments
- Criticized for perceived “dithering” or indecision
- Hailed for rebuilding Fianna Fail party over the past decade
- Fitness fanatic and Gaelic football fan
Micheal (pronounced Mee-hawl) Martin was born in Cork on August 1, 1960, the son of bus driver and boxer Paddy “The Champ” Moran and Eileen Lana Corbett. He was the third of five children, with a twin brother Padraig, as well as two sisters and another brother. They were raised in a modest house on O’Connell Avenue in the working-class neighborhood of Turner’s Cross.
The octogenarian brothers Michael and Finbar O’Riordan lived a few doors from the 1940s. Standing on their porch, they remembered the growing young Micheal Martin and how he still had time to chat.
“I know Micheal very well,” said Finbar. “The last election, he was here and he is one of those guys who will always call you, always with a cup of tea with you … he will make excellent Taoism, great Taoism.”
But even in Mr. Martin’s childhood street, some residents turned away from him and his party, reflecting the fractured outcome of the February general election.
Annie Thompson, returning home with her young daughter and a set of rolls, said, “It is not a good thing at all. We voted for change, and it doesn’t change at all. He said he would never go with Fine Gael, and that’s exactly what he did. She voted for Sinn Fein.
Mr. Martin attended the local Colaiste Chriost Ri school at Turner’s Cross and then studied the arts at University College Cork. He briefly became a history teacher at Presentation Brothers College, before entering politics.
He was first elected to the Dail (lower house of the Irish Parliament) in 1989 and was a minister in the Fianna Fail governments of Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen between 1997 and 2011.
His portfolios included foreign affairs, health, education and science, and business, trade and employment.
Large and varied, Mr. Martin likes to take care of his health and is well known for having chosen a breakfast of muesli and fruit in the Dail restaurant, in stark contrast to the traditional fries appreciated by many other members. One of his proudest moments in political life took place in 2004, when he presented, as Minister of Health, the ban on smoking in Ireland, a European first.
However, his place in the governments led by Fianna Fail which oversaw the economic collapse of Ireland and the subsequent bailout of the EU / IMF has been a cornerstone that he is struggling to shake off, especially now that ‘he returns to government buildings.
Another party colleague and Cork North-West TD (member of Dail), Michael Moynihan, acknowledges the mistakes of Fianna Fail’s past, but is confident that the new taoiseach will not dwell on history.
“I think this government will be judged on one thing and only one thing, and that is delivery,” he told Sky News. “There will be no forgiveness if there is no delivery [on key issues]. He will be judged taoiseach if he brings about change, if he offers the quality of life contained in the government’s program. ”
Martin himself apologized for the actions of Fianna Fail before the financial crisis when he was elected leader of the shattered party in 2011. “We have made mistakes,” he said. ” We were wrong. And we are sorry. ”
He also had to apologize that year for using the broken English words “You Irish very good at software” with a Chinese accent when he recounted a trade mission to China. The controversy quickly exploded.
Since then, he has rarely been wrong in regularly rebuilding the electoral fortune of Fianna Fail. In the general election in February, they underperformed compared to the ballot, but still ended up as the largest party in Dail with 38 seats (including the speaker), although this is far from the majority . Months of tortuous coalition negotiations resulted in the party’s return to government.
Political adversaries have long made a large part of his reputation as a “dander”, which his allies reject as totally unfair.
“Opinions are very divided on him,” said famous political journalist Lise Hand. “Some people say that he is very dithery, indecisive, and he tends to postpone decisions, while others would say that he is in fact a cunning operator and a tough guy who will make difficult decisions to recover his party in power. ”
“It will be interesting to see what Micheal Martin shows up at government buildings.”
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For more than 30 years, Mr. Martin has been married to Mary O’Shea, whom he met at university. The couple had five children together, but two died. In 2010, their daughter Leana died at the London Hospital at the age of seven, after battling heart disease. One son, Ruairi, died at an early age. The Martins have a daughter, Aoibhe, and two sons, Micheal Aodh and Cillian.
The latter two play Gaelic football for Mr. Martin’s Nemo Rangers GAA club. He joined the club at the age of 10 in 1970 and has been actively involved since. Club public relations officer Paul Barry said he was a regular game spectator.
“I think it’s freedom,” said Barry, as the clubhouse prepares to resume training after a long hiatus from the coronavirus. “He is able to relax outside of politics. He comes here to the club and he’s just Micheal. He’s not the leader of any party, he’s just Micheal. The members said that Mr. Martin would not be treated any differently when he returned as a Taoiseach.
It is certain that Mr. Martin will have much less time for games in the coming months. It becomes taoiseach at a time when the post has a groaning tray. An ongoing pandemic, a coalition of necessity with traditional political enemies, disastrous economic data and the specter of a Brexit with no potential agreement awaiting us.
Martin has just over two years to overcome these obstacles and create a political legacy that will justify his long wait for the highest position in Ireland.