Historic coalition elects new Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin

epaselect epa08511583 Ireland's Fianna Fail party leader Micheal Martin arrives at the Convention Centre in Dublin, Ireland, 27 June 2020. Due to social distancing measures, the Irish Parliament is sitting in the convention centre to officially elect new Prime Minister Micheal Martin from the Fianna Fail Party who are forming a historic coalition with Fine Gael led by Leo Varadker and the Green Party. EPA-EFE/Aidan Crawley

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Fianna Fáil leader Mícheál Martin has been elected Ireland’s Taoiseach or prime minister after rival parties in Ireland voted to endorse a coalition government.

Memberships of three parties in Ireland agreed to work together putting centre right party Fianna Fáil, centre party Fine Gael and the Green party in coalition with each other.

The new Prime Minister  pledged to rescue Ireland from the “the fastest-moving recession ever to hit”, brought on by the coronavirus crisis.

Martin’s Fianna Fail party was forced to join forces with its foes Fine Gael, after a surprise election surge for leftist Irish nationalists Sinn Fein left neither of the traditional centrist parties with enough support to govern on its own. They and are joined in coalition by the environmentalist Greens.

Martin is expected to step aside half way through the five-year term to allow Fine Gael’s leader, outgoing Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, to return to the post.

“There is no question what our most urgent work is. There is no community, no part of our country which has escaped untouched” by coronavirus), Martin told a special sitting of lawmakers, held in Dublin’s large Convention Centre as the houses of parliament are too small for social distancing.

To overcome the recession “we must act with urgency and ambition,” said Martin, close to tears as he thanked his family who were unable to travel from his native Cork due to coronavirus restrictions due to be eased on Monday.

He was elected by 93 votes to 63 after also securing support from some independent members of parliament.

The appointment represented a turnaround for Fianna Fail and Martin, who was a member of the government that signed up to an EU/IMF bailout a decade ago and led to an unprecedented 2011 electoral collapse just after he took over as leader.

The new coalition will also split Irish politics along more explicitly ideological lines than in the past, with Sinn Fein taking over as the main opposition. Though Fianna Fail and Fine Gael emerged from opposite sides in civil war in the 1920s, they have mainly pushed similar centrist agendas for decades.

Sinn Fein, the former political wing of the Irish Republican Army that fought an insurgency against British rule of Northern Ireland, shocked the political establishment in February by securing the most votes with a call for more generous social programmes. It has 37 seats in the 160-seat parliament, the same number as Fianna Fail and two more than Fine Gael.

“You will no longer get it all your own way,” Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald told the two parties.

Fine Gael’s Helen McEntee has been promoted to the position of Minister for Justice as Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan appoint a new Cabinet.

Mr Martin has elevated first time Kerry Fianna Fáil TD Norma Foley to the Cabinet as Minister for Education.

Fianna Fáil Wicklow TD Stephen Donnelly will become Minister for Health with Dublin Fingal’s Darragh O’Brien is becoming Minister for Housing.

Fine Gael’s Paschal Donohoe remains on as Minister for Finance as expected, with Fianna Fáil’s Michael McGrath becoming Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. Barry Cowen will become Minister for Agriculture while Fianna Fáil deputy leader Dara Calleary will become Government Chief Whip.

Simon Coveney remains in the Department of Foreign Affairs while Heather Humphreys takes the Department of Social Protection and Rural Affairs for Fine Gael.

Simon Harris will become Minister for Higher Education and Research. Mr Varadkar will become Minister for Business.

Reuters / EPA / The Irish Times

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