Fianna Fáil TD Micheál Martin is set to become Ireland’s 15th Taoiseach in an unprecedented move in unprecedented times. Leader of Fianna Fáil since February 2011, he led the Dáil in Opposition since March 2011, when Fianna Fáil fell from power and Fine Gael were voted in.
Born August 1st 1960 in Turner’s Cross, Co. Cork, Martin graduated from University College Cork with a BA in Arts and an MA in political history. He then completed a HDip and became a teacher at Presentation Brothers College Secondary School. His thesis for his MA was later published as a book, “Freedom to Choose: Cork and Party Politics in Ireland 1918–1932”.
Martin entered politics when he was elected to Cork Corporation in 1985. His first election to the Dáil came in 1989, where he was elected Teacht Dála (TD) in the Cork South-Central constituency and has held his seat since. Martin also served a term as Lord Mayor of Cork in 1992-93.
His political career spanned various Ministerial positions and Taoisigh, including Bertie Ahern, Brian Cowen, Enda Kenny and Leo Varadkar.
Early in office, Martin was quickly appreciated by his colleagues, having been dubbed “The next Taoiseach” with a halo due to his Roman Catholic heritage. Martin was a noted strict Catholic, never indulging in alcohol and eating fruits and oats for breakfast.
His years as a historian became notable in his work with the breaking of the Kennedy Commission scandal in education. Rather than merely breaking the story regarding the faults in his department and civil service, Martin actually dug up the information and read through uncovered files himself. On particular school's principal had admitted to the commission that students were regularly stripped naked and whipped. Martin made it a goal to meet with the survivors of the commission personally, as while it lead to the closing of the industrial school system, the brutality had yet to be unearthed. He read out to Dáil Éireann a letter dated April 1970 from the Department of Justice to the Department of Education. It detailed how the state could not be seen to condone this conduct, but that the disclosure of such information on "particular methods of punishment" would "cause a grave public scandal".
Micháel Martin’s family has been described as a close unit, with politics being the family business. Martin’s first office as Minister for Education and Science was overshadowed by a family tragedy following the death of his son in infancy.
As Minister for Health and Children in 2004, he is most remembered for introducing the ban on tobacco in all Irish work and public places, with Ireland being the first country to do so. It cemented his legacy in Irish health following his establishment of the Health Executive Service (HSE). The latter has faced mounting criticism for its bureaucracy and standards in administration.
As his stances became more opposed to his party and his ruthless nature became prominent, it was said his “halo was gone”, and he was now “the former future leader”.
Martin continued to set precedent as Minister for Foreign Affairs in 2009, when he traveled to Latin America. He is the first Irish Minister to visit Cuba and meet Fidel Castro. A more chartered move was his visit to the Gaza Strip in the state of Israel on February 25th 2010. Although swearing to not be on a delegation to meet with Hamas, he sought UN attention for the Palestinian civilians following the Israeli attacks and retaliations in 2009. Martin described the blockade on the Gaza Strip as “choking the ordinary people” and helping to swell the ranks of the Islamic Hamas administration. Ireland has now secured its security council seat in the United Nations for 2020/2021.
The Martin family were struck again by tragedy when their 7-year old daughter died of a heart condition. This was in the months leading up to his election as leader of Fianna Fáil.
Having been described both as “untrustworthy and ruthless” and a “good-natured Catholic”, Micheál Martin will cement his enigmatic and divisive position in Irish culture and politics with his new role as Taoiseach.
He will hold the office until December 2022.