New Irish prime minister gives boost to EU centrists

Ireland's Fianna Fail party leader Micheal Martin leaves the Convention Centre after being elected by the Irish Parliament as Taoiseach (the prime minister of the Republic of Ireland) in Dublin, Ireland, 27 June 2020. [EPA-EFE/Aidan Crawley]

The centrist Renew Europe political faction has added another EU leader to their roster after Ireland formed a new government over the weekend, with Fianna Fáil leader Mícheál Martin at the helm, tasked with overseeing the country’s economic recovery after the pandemic.

The move brings 59-year-old Martin, a seasoned politician with more than thirty-five years of experience in politics, to the top of the pile in the new Irish government, which will be composed of Fianna Fáil, the EPP’s Fine Gael and the Green party.

On Saturday (27 June), a breakthrough was made as the three parties managed to broker a deal following months of deadlocked talks after an inconclusive national election in February.

The deal sidelines the leftist Sinn Féin outfit, who performed stronger than expected in the ballots earlier this year. 

Both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael had distanced themselves from the party in government talks, due to their group’s historic relationship to the Irish Republican Army.

“Our three parties come from very different traditions,” Martin said as part of his acceptance speech on Saturday.  

“We do not and could not be expected to agree on everything. However, we have been able to agree on core democratic principles and on a balanced and comprehensive programme,” he added, highlighting that forging Ireland’s economic recovery after the coronavirus fallout will be at the “very centre of everything the new government will do.”

Other pressing areas that the new government will seek to make headway in, include reducing waiting times for health appointments, increasing welfare support, and tackling the ‘existential crisis’ posed by climate change.

“Recovery and renewal. These are the themes which underpin everything in the programme for government which has been agreed between Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party,” Martin said.

The new Irish prime minister brings a wealth of experience to the role, having previously served as a government minister across a number of portfolios including health, education, trade and foreign affairs. 

His earliest tenure in government was as part of Bertie Ahern’s first cabinet in 1997, where he became the youngest member of the administration at just 36 years old. In his role as education minister, he put forward a series of measures to increase spending across a range of educational initiatives and levels.    

Before that, Martin also served as a councillor for Cork city, as well Lord Mayor of Cork in 1992.  

In Brussels, the president of Fianna Fáil’s European political group, Renew Europe’s Dacian Cioloş, welcomed Martin’s appointment, saying that there are ‘challenging times ahead’ but that Martin could count on the support of his ‘European political family.’  

Prominent Renew MEP Guy Verhofstadt also added his voice to the chorus of applause at the news, saying he is confident Martin “will cement a strong Ireland at the heart of a United Europe.”

Meanwhile, outgoing EPP Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will take up a role as deputy prime minister, managing the enterprise, trade and employment portfolio.  

Varadkar said over the weekend that the new government formation was not necessarily a “day for celebration for Fine Gael,” but that the party is “doing what is right for the country.”

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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