DUBLIN (Reuters) – Ireland’s parliament on Saturday elected veteran opposition leader Micheál Martin as prime minister to head the first coalition uniting the two parties that have fought for power since a civil war nearly a century ago.
Taoiseach Micheal Martin, Party Leader Fianna Fail leaves the Convention Center, on his way to the President’s residence to receive his seal in Dublin, Ireland on June 27, 2020. REUTERS / Lorraine O’Sullivan
He vowed to rescue Ireland from “the fastest-moving recession that has ever hit,” brought on by the coronavirus crisis.
Martin’s Fianna Fail party was forced to join forces with its enemies Fine Gael, after a surge in elections for Irish nationalist leftists Sinn Fein did not leave any of the traditional centrist parties with enough support to rule for themselves . They and the Green ecologists join in a coalition.
Martin is expected to part ways in the middle of the five-year term to allow Fine Gael’s leader, outgoing Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, to return to office.
“There is no doubt what our most urgent work is. There is no community, no part of our country that has escaped without being touched by the coronavirus, Martin said at a special session of lawmakers, held at the Dublin Convention Center, as the houses of parliament are too small for social distancing. .
To overcome the recession, “we must act with urgency and ambition,” said Martin, almost crying as he thanked his family that he was unable to travel from his native Cork due to coronavirus restrictions that would be eased on Monday.
He was elected by 93 votes to 63 after also obtaining the support of some independent parliamentarians.
The appointment represented a change for Fianna Fail and Martin, who was a member of the government who signed up for an EU / IMF bailout a decade ago and led to an unprecedented electoral collapse in 2011 just after taking office as leader.
The 59-year-old former history professor, who has held several high-ranking ministries such as health, commerce, foreign affairs and education, faces another economic crisis with 26% of the country temporarily or permanently unemployed.
The unemployment rate was only 4.8% when the elections were fought in very different circumstances in February. The main issue was how to allocate the loot of what was the fastest growing economy in Europe.
Instead, Martin will oversee a stimulus package next month for the sectors most affected by the coronavirus blockade.
Pashcal Donohoe, a candidate to head the Eurogroup of the 19 euro zone finance ministers, was named finance minister, as was his Fine Gael colleague, Foreign Minister Simon Coveney. Deputy Prime Minister Varadkar was appointed Minister of Commerce.
The new coalition will also divide Irish politics along more explicit ideological lines than in the past, with Sinn Fein as the main opposition. Although Fianna Fail and Fine Gael emerged on opposite sides of the civil war in the 1920s, they have primarily driven similar centrist agendas for decades.
Sinn Fein, the former political wing of the Irish Republican Army who fought an insurgency against British rule of Northern Ireland, shocked the political establishment in February by securing the majority of the vote with a call for more generous social programs. He has 37 seats in the 160-seat parliament, the same number as Fianna Fail and two more than Fine Gael.
“You won’t get it your way anymore,” Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald told the two sides.
Additional reports from Conor Humphries; Louise Heavens and Alison Williams Edition