Martin gains two years to overcome Ireland’s biggest crisis

Micheal Martin arrives at the Dail in Dublin on June 27.

Photographer: Niall Carson / PA Images via Getty Images

Ireland’s new prime minister has just over two years to shape his legacy.

After his election Saturday, 59-year-old Micheal Martin will lead the nation’s first grand coalition until the end of 2022 before turning Leo Varadkar over to a rotating prime minister. Meanwhile, Varadkar will serve as employment minister and deputy prime minister.

The Fianna Fail leader and former history teacher will have to deal with some of the biggest challenges any government has faced since the nation gained independence almost a century ago.

Brexit remains unsolved, with Ireland at greater risk if the UK leaves the bloc without a trade deal, while Martin will also face pressure from his Green Party allies to meet their environmental demands. Most importantly, it will have to nurture the economy to bring it back to life after the coronavirus crisis.

“This is the fastest-hitting recession in our country and to overcome it we must act with urgency and ambition,” Martin said after his election in a parliamentary vote in Dublin on Saturday.

Coalition calls?

No party is close to general control in Ireland’s parliament

Source: Irish Houses of Parliament

Martin’s rise to power culminates a 30-year career as a legislator. The slim, fit former health minister has brought Fianna Fail back to power almost a decade after the party oversaw one of the worst economic collapses in history.

Martin was a foreign minister in the government that was forced to request an international bailout in 2010 after Ireland was excluded from the bond markets. Martin took over as party leader months later and has spent the past decade caring for Fianna Fail, long the nation’s dominant ruling party, back to life.

Now take the helm at the time of another great challenge. The economy may shrink 8% amid the coronavirus crisis, the central bank said.

Economic challenge

The country could run a deficit of 30 billion euros ($ 33.4 billion) this year to pay for coronavirus-related costs, and unemployment will remain high even as the economy prepares to reopen almost entirely on Monday.

“It is beyond this phase of” pent-up “demand where there remains an element of uncertainty about the potential lasting psychological and financial damage to the blockade,” said Dermot O’Leary, chief economist at Goodbody Stockbrokers in Dublin.

In some respects, the government will look familiar, with Paschal Donohoe as finance minister and Simon Coveney as foreign minister. That will fuel attacks by Sinn Fein, which garnered the most votes in the inconclusive February elections.

Both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael de Varadkar refused to work with Sinn Fein due to their longstanding ties to the terrorist campaign to end UK rule in Northern Ireland and left-wing politics.

“Instead of going forward, we will go backwards,” Pearse Doherty, Sinn Fein’s finance spokesman, said in parliament on Saturday. “Change cannot be stopped.”

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