Micheal Martin is set to take over as Ireland’s new prime minister Saturday at the helm of the nation’s first grand coalition, replacing Leo Varadkar in what will be a rotating premiership.
The Irish parliament will elect Martin, 59, as prime minister in Dublin, four months after a general election failed to produce a clear winner, after the Green Party voted on Friday to enter government with the nation’s traditional powerhouses, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.
Lawmakers will meet in a convention center in the city’s docklands instead of its usual home in the city center to allow social distancing.
Martin will lead the country until December 2022 when Varadkar is due to replace him in an accord agreed by Martin’s Fianna Fail party and Varadkar’s Fine Gael. The move to enter government together effectively ends a political divide that originates from Ireland’s civil war almost a century ago. The groups that became Fine Gael and Fianna Fail fought on opposite sides in that conflict, and the split has been the main divide in Irish politics since.
They came together after February’s election amid a surge in support for rival party Sinn Fein. Both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael refused to work with Sinn Fein because of its former links to terrorism and left-wing politics.
The new government will have to grapple with the fallout from the coronavirus crisis. While case numbers have plummeted, the economy is expected to shrink by about 8% this year, according to the Irish central bank. Even without the pandemic, the government will be under pressure to move quickly to ease a housing shortage and homelessness crisis that emerged as key issues during the election campaign.
The country could run a 30 billion-euro deficit this year to pay for coronavirus related costs. Moreover, Brexit is still to be resolved, with Ireland the economy most at risk should the U.K. exit the bloc without a trade deal.
Martin’s election caps a 30 year career as a lawmaker. He took over leadership of Fianna Fail in 2011 after the party’s support collapsed in the wake of the financial crisis. While the party has revived since, it has struggled to regain its foothold at the top of the political system. It won 22% at February’s election, barely half the party’s share in 2007.
His predecessor, Varadkar, leaves office with his personal approval rating at a record high of 75% due to his handling of the crisis, according to an Irish Times poll.