Micheál Martin

Micheál Martin (Irish pronunciation: [ˈmʲiːçaːl̪ˠ];[2][3][4] born 1 August 1960) is an Irish Fianna Fáil politician who has served as Taoiseach since June 2020 and as Leader of Fianna Fáil since January 2011. He has been a Teachta Dála (TD) for Cork South-Central since 1989. He previously served as Leader of the Opposition from 2011 to 2020, Minister for Foreign Affairs from 2008 to 2011, Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment from 2004 to 2008, Minister for Health and Children from 2000 to 2004, Minister for Education and Science from 1997 to 2000.

Micheál Martin

Official portrait, c.2020
15th Taoiseach
Assumed office
27 June 2020
PresidentMichael D. Higgins
TánaisteLeo Varadkar
Preceded byLeo Varadkar
Leader of Fianna Fáil
Assumed office
26 January 2011
DeputyVacant (since 2020)
Preceded byBrian Cowen
Other offices
Leader of the Opposition
In office
9 March 2011  27 June 2020
Preceded byEnda Kenny
Succeeded byMary Lou McDonald
Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine
In office
21 August 2020  2 September 2020
Preceded byDara Calleary
Succeeded byCharlie McConalogue
In office
14 July 2020  15 July 2020
Preceded byBarry Cowen
Succeeded byDara Calleary
Minister for Foreign Affairs
In office
7 May 2008  18 January 2011
TaoiseachBrian Cowen
Preceded byDermot Ahern
Succeeded byEamon Gilmore
Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment
In office
29 September 2004  7 May 2008
TaoiseachBertie Ahern
Preceded byMary Harney
Succeeded byMary Coughlan
Minister for Health and Children
In office
27 January 2000  29 September 2004
TaoiseachBertie Ahern
Preceded byBrian Cowen
Succeeded byMary Harney
Minister for Education and Science
In office
26 June 1997  27 January 2000
TaoiseachBertie Ahern
Preceded byNiamh Bhreathnach
Succeeded byMichael Woods
Lord Mayor of Cork
In office
20 June 1992  21 June 1993
Preceded byDenis Cregan
Succeeded byJohn Murray
Teachta Dála
Assumed office
June 1989
ConstituencyCork South-Central
Personal details
Born (1960-08-01) 1 August 1960 (age 60)[1]
Cork, Ireland
Political partyFianna Fáil
Mary O'Shea
(m. 1990)
Children5, including Micheál
EducationColáiste Chríost Rí
Alma materUniversity College Cork

Born in Cork, Martin initially worked as a teacher before entering politics. He was elected to Cork City Council in 1985, and served as Lord Mayor of Cork from 1992 to 1993. In 1989, he was first elected to Dáil Éireann for Cork South-Central, a seat he has represented ever since. After the victory of Fianna Fáil at the 1997 election, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern appointed Martin to the Cabinet. In 2004, during his time as Health Minister, Martin was notable for introducing a ban on tobacco smoking in all Irish workplaces, making Ireland the first country in the world to introduce a full workplace smoking ban. In the same year, Martin established the Health Service Executive. In 2009, Martin became the first Irish Foreign Minister to travel to Latin America, during which time he also made the first official visit to Cuba by any Irish minister. Martin also visited Khartoum during his time as Foreign Minister following the kidnapping of Sharon Commins and Hilda Kawuki.

In January 2011, Martin resigned as Foreign Minister in protest at the leadership of Brian Cowen. Following Cowen's own resignation as Leader of Fianna Fáil, Martin was quickly elected to replace him. Just weeks later, at the 2011 general election, Martin led Fianna Fáil to the worst result in its 85-year history, with a loss of 57 seats and a popular vote of just 17.4%. He nevertheless remained in the leadership, becoming Leader of the Opposition, with most party members choosing to blame Cowen rather than Martin for the result. At the 2016 general election, Fianna Fáil's performance improved significantly, more than doubling their representation in the Dáil. Martin continued as Leader of the Opposition and led his party through the 2020 general election, which led to Fianna Fáil becoming the largest party in the Dáil by just one seat.[5][lower-alpha 1]

After lengthy negotiations, Martin was appointed Taoiseach on 27 June 2020, leading a grand coalition with longtime rival party Fine Gael, marking the first time these two parties had governed together, along with the Green Party. Under the terms of the coalition agreement, Martin's predecessor, Leo Varadkar, became Tánaiste, and is scheduled to swap roles with Martin in December 2022.[7]

Early life

Martin was born in 1960 in Cork, and was raised in the Turners Cross area. Martin was the son of Paddy Martin (1923–2012), a former soldier in the Defence Forces, CIÉ employee and Irish international boxer,[8] and Eileen "Lana" Corbett (1929–2010).[9] He was the third child in a family of five. Martin's eldest brother Seán and his twin brother Pádraig subsequently became involved in local politics in Cork.[10][11] His two younger sisters, Eileen and Máiréad, have remained apolitical.[12] Martin attended Coláiste Chríost Rí before studying arts at University College Cork.[13]

It was during his time at university that Martin became involved in politics. He was a prominent member of the UCC cumann of Ógra Fianna Fáil, the youth wing of the party before later serving as national chairman of Ógra.[14] After graduating with a BA degree, Martin later completed an MA in political history.[8] Subsequently, he completed a higher diploma in education, and began a career as a history teacher in Presentation Brothers College.[14]

In 2009, he published his MA thesis as a book: Freedom to Choose: Cork and Party Politics in Ireland 1918–1932.[15]

Early political career

Martin's time as a teacher was short-lived; he left after just one year to become a full-time politician when he secured election to Cork Corporation as a Fianna Fáil candidate in 1985. It was from this local base that he decided to embark on a career in national politics a little under two years later. Martin was one of four candidates who secured the Fianna Fáil nomination to run in the Cork South-Central constituency at the 1987 general election, however, of the four he polled the fewest first-preference votes and failed to be elected.[16] He became a member of the Fianna Fáil national executive in 1988.

In 1989, Taoiseach Charles Haughey called a snap election, and Martin was once again added to the Fianna Fáil ticket in Cork South-Central, and on that occasion he secured election to Dáil Éireann. He has been re-elected at each election since.[16]

In his first few years as a TD, Martin served on a number of Oireachtas committees, including those dealing with crime, finance and the Irish language. He served as Lord Mayor of Cork in 1992. Two years later, in December 1994, Bertie Ahern was elected as the new leader of Fianna Fáil, as the party lost power and went into opposition. Martin, however, joined Ahern's new front bench at the start of 1995 as Spokesperson on Education and the Gaeltacht.[17]

Cabinet career (1997–2011)

Minister for Education and Science (1997–2000)

When Fianna Fáil returned to power following the 1997 general election, Martin was appointed to the newly expanded position of Minister for Education and Science. Aged 36, he was the youngest member of Bertie Ahern's first cabinet.[18] As Minister for Education and Science, his tenure was characterised by an increase in spending at all levels of education, while a number of educational initiatives, such as a review of the primary school curriculum and the introduction of special needs assistants, were also initiated.[19]

Minister for Health and Children (2000–2004)

In a cabinet reshuffle in January 2000, Martin was appointed Minister for Health and Children. Martin's predecessor, Brian Cowen, described the position as "like being in Angola", because 'landmines' can go off at any time.[20]

In spite of tough opposition, Martin introduced a ban on tobacco smoking in all Irish workplaces, including pubs and restaurants. He announced on 30 January 2003, his intention to have the ban in place on 1 January 2004.[21] He visited New York in September 2003 to look at how a similar ban worked there, and signed the UN's framework convention on tobacco control at their headquarters.[22] The smoking ban was introduced on 29 March 2004,[23] making Ireland the first country in the world to introduce a blanket ban on smoking in the workplace.[24] Martin was presented with an award by the European Respiratory Society in Glasgow on 4 September 2004, for his work on the smoking ban.[25]

He introduced the an overhaul of the health system, which included the abolition of the health boards and establishment of the Health Service Executive (HSE). He deregulated the country's pharmacies from 31 January 2002.[26]

In October 2003, Martin promised to examine cases of symphysiotomy in Irish hospitals which occurred during the 1940s and 1950s, and offered free health care to those affected.[27]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (2004–2008)

In September 2004, he exchanged government positions with Mary Harney, to become Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. The following September, the government's economic record on the cost of living came under scrutiny from the RTÉ television programme Rip-Off Republic. This led to Martin abolishing the controversial Groceries Order 1987, a piece of legislation which prohibited the sale of groceries below cost price.[28]

Letters containing death threats and shotgun cartridges, from a group calling itself the Irish Citizens Defence Force, were posted to Martin on 29 February 2008, at a prominent Dublin fertility clinic.[29]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (2008–2011)

On the resignation of Bertie Ahern as Taoiseach in May 2008, Martin supported Brian Cowen's bid for the Fianna Fáil leadership.[30]

In a cabinet reshuffle on 13 May 2008, following the election of Brian Cowen as Taoiseach, Martin became Minister for Foreign Affairs. One of the first issues that he had to deal with was the referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon.[citation needed] Martin led the government campaign. Despite the overwhelming majority of government and opposition parties supporting a Yes vote, the electorate rejected the government's recommendation. Martin and Cowen failed to convince the Irish public to support the ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon, and this protest expressed in the referendum on 12 June 2008 plunged the government into a major political crisis.[31]

Martin with US Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez in 2005

In February 2009, Martin travelled to Latin America for the first time, making stopovers in Mexico and Havana; it was the first time an Irish government Minister had made an official visit to Cuba.[32]

In September 2009, he travelled to Khartoum to discuss the kidnapping of Sharon Commins and Hilda Kawuki with the Sudanese government.[33]

On 7 February 2010, he defended the €4.4 million redevelopment of the Irish embassy in Ottawa, Canada.[34] While in Brussels on 22 February 2010, he questioned Foreign Affairs Minister of Israel Avigdor Lieberman over the use of fraudulent Irish passports in the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh.[35]

On 17 March 2010, he met President of the United States Barack Obama in the White House, alongside Taoiseach Brian Cowen.[36][37]

On 26 May 2010, he met with senior Chinese leaders in Beijing, to discuss relations between China and Ireland, before travelling onward to Shanghai.[38] While there, he visited the Irish pavilion at Expo 2010 in the city.[39]

On 28 June 2010, he began a five-day trip to Uganda and Ethiopia, where he visited buildings and met ministers and businesspeople.[40]

Criticism of Gaza blockade

As Minister for Foreign Affairs, Martin was critical of the blockade of Gaza, particularly after being denied access to the area in 2009. He wrote to Spain (as President of the EU), to suggest that the body send a team of foreign ministers to the area in 2010.[41] He made his first visit there himself on 25 February 2010, on a one-day humanitarian mission through the Egyptian border.[42] In doing so, Martin became the first Western foreign minister to visit Gaza, since Hamas took control in 2007.[43] While in Gaza, the Minister toured hospitals and schools.[44] He was accompanied by United Nations vehicles.[43]

I would appeal to the Israeli government and all concerned to lift this blockade. Micheál Martin appeals to Israel while in Gaza on 25 February 2010.[45]

Martin wrote about his experience in the International Herald Tribune the following week.[46][47]

Martin was Minister for Foreign Affairs during the Gaza flotilla raid and the aftermath of this incident. He told Dáil Éireann that he had requested that the Israeli government allow the MV Rachel Corrie to deliver its cargo of aid to Gaza instead of involving itself in "further bloodshed".[48]

Leadership of Fianna Fáil (2011–present)


In September 2010, doubts about Brian Cowen's abilities and political judgment as Taoiseach and party leader emerged following a disastrous early-morning radio interview on Morning Ireland. Cowen survived, however, that same month Martin admitted that he and other cabinet members, namely Brian Lenihan and Dermot Ahern, harboured ambitions to lead the party should a vacancy arise.[49] While some backbench rebel Fianna Fáil TD's and senators called for Cowen to go, no cabinet minister publicly came forward to challenge the incumbent. In spite of this, Martin once again expressed an interest in running for the leadership of Fianna Fáil once the vacancy arises in December 2010 on RTÉ's Saturday View radio programme.[50]

On 16 January 2011, Martin announced that he would vote against Brian Cowen in the upcoming confidence motion in his leadership of the party. He offered to resign as Minister for Foreign Affairs, but his resignation was initially refused by Cowen.[51][52] Following the result of the motion, which Cowen won, the resignation was accepted.

On 22 January 2011, just days after winning a vote of confidence, Brian Cowen announced that he was stepping down as leader of Fianna Fáil, but would remain as Taoiseach. On a special RTÉ News programme that day, a number of Fianna Fáil TDs and senators came on the air and publicly backed Martin for the leadership. Later that evening, Martin formally announced his intention to seek support for the leadership of Fianna Fáil.[53] He was immediately seen as the front-runner; however, a number of other candidates, including Brian Lenihan Éamon Ó Cuív and Mary Hanafin, entered the field to ensure a contest.[54] Finance Minister Brian Lenihan was seen as Martin's biggest rival for the position, however, his position was weakened due to his public declaration of support for Cowen the previous week.[citation needed]

On 26 January 2011, the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party met to elect a new leader. Martin was proposed by Dara Calleary and seconded by Áine Brady and received 33 first preference votes.[55][56] After Hanafin and Lenihan had been eliminated from the contest and their surplus votes distributed, Martin emerged with 50 votes and was duly elected the eighth leader of Fianna Fáil.[56][57] After election, he pledged to reinvigorate Fianna Fáil from its traditional centre ground roots, believing that Fianna Fáil has never delivered to the Irish people through the labels of left and right.[56]

Martin led the party into the 2011 general election, which saw Fianna Fáil swept from power in the worst defeat of a sitting government in the history of the Irish state. The party saw its first-preference vote more than halved. Without significant transfers, the count quickly turned into a rout. Ultimately, Fianna Fáil lost 57 seats, representing a decline of 75%–the worst electoral performance in its 85-year history. The party was knocked down to only 20 seats for third place–the first time in 79 years that it was not the largest party in the Dáil.

While Martin and other Fianna Fáil leaders concluded early on that they would not be re-elected to another term in government, they were surprised by the severity of the defeat; they had hoped to hold onto at least 30 seats. In the wake of what has been described as "defeat on a historic scale", Martin pledged to renew the party "at every level".[58]

During the Seanad elections, Martin recommended support for 10 candidates, in an attempt to bring new blood into the parliamentary party. This caused resentment from Fianna Fáil Councillors and incumbent Fianna Fáil Senators.[59] Only five of the recommended ten were elected, although the party performed better than expected winning fourteen seats.[60]

In August 2011, Martin approached Gay Byrne as a possible nominee for the presidential election, but this approach caused controversy within his party, who favoured an internal candidate, Brian Crowley, which was exacerbated on the declining of the nomination by Byrne and the withdrawal from the process by Crowley.[61] In an opinion poll in September 2011, Fianna Fáil's popularity fell to 10%, several points lower than its performance in the February 2011 election.[62]


In 2016, he criticized Fine Gael for plans to cut personal taxation in Ireland to levels seen in the United States.[63]

At the 2016 general election, Martin led Fianna Fáil to a modest recovery, with a representation of 44 seats in the 158-member parliament.[64] In 2016, he was nominated for Taoiseach, but no nominees received enough votes to be nominated as Taoiseach.[65]

Martin was also the party Spokesperson on Northern Ireland.

In January 2018, Martin stated that he would support a relaxation of Ireland's abortion stance, citing “cruel inflexibility and unintended consequences”.[66][67] Specifically, he said "he would vote in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment and to allow abortion on request until near the end of the first trimester," leading to some political conflict within Fianna Fáil.[68] 31 of the party's TDs and Senators posed for a photograph showing their opposition to repealing the eighth amendment, with over half of the parliamentary party supporting a No vote.[69]

In October 2018, there was confusion within the party when Sorcha McAnespy said that Martin had told her she was the next Fianna Fáil candidate in north elections, which the party then did not support.[70]

In November 2018, Varadkar and Martin argued over carbon tax increases led to the Dáil almost being adjourned for the day.[71] Martin was given the decision in December 2018 on whether to enter into talks to renegotiate the confidence-and-supply deal.[72] In December 2018, Martin ruled out a 2019 general election, agreeing to a one-year extension between his party and Fine Gael in Ireland's "national interest."[73]

15th Taoiseach (2020–present)

On 27 June 2020, Martin was elected as Taoiseach, in an historic coalition agreement that saw his party Fianna Fáil go into government with the Green Party and Fianna Fáil's historical rivals, Fine Gael. A majority of 93 members of the Dáil voted in favour of him taking the role, while 63 members voted against him.[74] As part of the agreement, Varadkar became Tánaiste in Martin's government, and will swap roles with Martin in December 2022, approximately two-and-a-half years into the five-year parliamentary term.[7] On 29 June 2020, there was a controversy surrounding Martin and the other party leaders for not selecting any ministers from the West of Ireland with Dara Calleary becoming Chief Whip and not a senior Minister.

On 14 July 2020, following drunk-driving revelations, he sacked Barry Cowen as Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine.[75]

On 21 August 2020, following the Golfgate scandal, Cowen's successor Dara Calleary resigned after attending a social hosted by the Oireachtas Golf Society which was contrary to national health guidelines surrounding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.[76]

Personal life

Martin met Mary O'Shea at university; they later married in 1990 and had a total of five children.[77] Their son, Ruairí, died at five weeks old in 2000 from sudden infant death syndrome.[78][79] Their seven-year-old daughter, Léana, died in October 2010 shortly before her eighth birthday at London's Great Ormond Street Hospital after suffering from a heart condition.[80][79] His three other children are Cillian, Aoibhe, and Micheál Aodh Martin who is a Gaelic football goalkeeper.[81][82][79]


  • Micheál Martin, Freedom to Choose: Cork & Party Politics in Ireland 1918–1932 (The Collins Press, Cork, 2009).


  1. Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil each had 37 TDs elected but as Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghail, a Fianna Fáil member, was automatically returned, this left Fianna Fáil as the largest party in the Dáil.[6]


  1. Tim Ryan (2020). Nealon's Guide to the 33rd Dáil and 26th Seanad and the 2019 Local and European Elections. Grand Canal Publishing.
  2. Martin spells his first name Micheál, that is without an acute accent, or síneadh fada over the i. See Martin's official website Micheál Martin TD. The Irish language version of the name Michael is usually spelt Mícheál.
  3. "Micheál Martin". Oireachtas Members Database. Retrieved 8 June 2008.
  4. Kelly, Fiach (29 June 2019). "Irish politics needs to wake up to the consequences of a no-deal Brexit". The Irish Times.
  5. "General Election 2020 Live Results". RTÉ News.
  6. "Ceann Comhairle - Seán Ó Fearghaíl". Oireachtas.
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  8. McGreevy, Ronan (26 January 2015). "Micheál Martin's family history: from old IRA to the British army". The Irish Times. Retrieved 27 June 2020.
  9. Kelleher, Olivia (6 April 2010). "Lana Martin funeral held". The Irish Times. Retrieved 27 June 2020.
  10. Riegel, Ralph (16 November 2016). "Micheal Martin's brother defends decision to offer sympathy to family of paedophile". Irish Independent. Retrieved 27 June 2020.
  11. "FF councillor 'upset' over selection of Martin's brother". Irish Examiner. 8 January 2009. Retrieved 27 June 2020.
  12. "Mother of Minister Micheál Martin dies". The Irish Times. 3 April 2010. Retrieved 27 June 2020.
  13. Healy, Yvonne (6 November 1999). "Nice, bright and driven but has he the mettle?". The Irish Times. Retrieved 27 June 2020.
  14. Ryan, Conor (29 January 2011). "Ready for the long road and long term". Irish Examiner. Retrieved 27 June 2020.
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  20. "The HSE – Angola all over again". The Sunday Business Post. 11 November 2007. Archived from the original on 12 August 2007.
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  22. "Martin to assess NY smoking ban". RTÉ News and Current Affairs. Raidió Teilifís Éireann. 14 September 2003. Retrieved 1 March 2010.
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  26. "Pharmacy deregulation begins". RTÉ News and Current Affairs. Raidió Teilifís Éireann. 31 January 2002. Retrieved 1 March 2010.
  27. "Martin promises Symphysiotomy review". RTÉ News and Current Affairs. Raidió Teilifís Éireann. 1 October 2003. Retrieved 1 March 2010.
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  35. Luke Baker (22 February 2010). "Martin to quiz Israeli minister on passports". Irish Independent. Retrieved 22 February 2010.
  36. Ralph Riegel, Conor Kane and Fionnan Sheahan (27 February 2010). "Ministers may be shuffled out of the St Patrick's Day parade". Irish Independent. Retrieved 27 February 2010.
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  66. Wheaton, Sarah (18 January 2018). "Irish opposition leader swings behind legalizing abortion". Politico. Retrieved 19 January 2018. Ireland’s opposition leader catalyzed the country’s abortion debate Thursday by saying he would defy the majority of his party to repeal a ban on terminating pregnancies.
  67. "Fianna Fáil's Martin supports repeal of abortion law". BBC News. 19 January 2018. The Republic of Ireland's main opposition leader has changed his mind on the country's abortion law due to the "real damage" it causes to women. "Abortion is a permanent and present reality" in Ireland, Fianna Fáil's Micheál Martin told RTÉ' radio.
  68. "‘Brave’ or ‘a betrayal’? Fianna Fáil members split on Martin’s abortion stance": The Irish Times, Ciara Kenn7, published 1/19/2018
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