LONDON (AP) – Centristic politician Micheal Martin became Ireland’s prime minister on Saturday and forged two old rival parties into a coalition four months after being elected.
The deal will rule Martin’s Fianna Fail with Fine Gael – party of outgoing leader Leo Varadkar – and with the smaller Green Party. Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, bitter opponents whose roots lie in opposing sides of the civil war that followed Ireland’s independence from the United Kingdom, have never formed a government together.
“I believe that civil war politics ended in our country long ago, but today civil war politics ends in our parliament,” said Varadkhar. “Two major parties are coming together with another major party, the Green Party, to provide what this country needs, a stable government for the betterment of our country and for the betterment of our world.”
The Dail, the lower house of the Irish Parliament, elected Martin in a vote of 93-63, with three abstentions. Martin later met Irish President Michael D Higgins to receive his official seal.
Under the plan approved by members of the parties, Martin became taoiseach, or prime minister. He will serve until the end of 2022 and then return the task to Varadkar.
The left-wing nationalist party Sinn Fein was banned from the new government, despite an electoral breakthrough that won her the majority of votes in the February elections. Despite moving forward, Sinn Fein was unable to gather enough support to rule.
The two centrist parties have long avoided Sinn Fein because of its historical ties to the Irish Republican army and decades of violence in Northern Ireland. But in protracted negotiations made even more complicated by the COVID-19 outbreak, the two rival centrist parties opted for unity.
Sinn Fein’s President Mary Lou McDonald said that Fianna Fail and Fine Gael have conspired to rule out her party and the votes of more than half a million people who voted for Sinn Fein. She called the coalition a “marriage of convenience”.
“Faced with the prospect of losing their grip on power, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael have circled the wagons,” said McDonald.
Fianna Fail has 38 seats in the 160-seat Dail, Sinn Fein has 37 seats, and Fine Gael has 35 seats, while the Greens have 12 seats.
The election campaign was devoted to domestic affairs. Ireland has a growing crisis in the field of homelessness, house prices rising faster than incomes and a public health system that has not kept up with demand.
Since then, the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the country’s problems. Saturday’s session was underlined by the changes the virus has brought about and took place in the Dublin Convention Center rather than in the legislators’ permanent chamber to allow for social distance.
Martin said tackling the pandemic would be at the center of his leadership.
“The fight against the virus is not over yet,” he said. “We must continue to control its spread. We must be ready to tackle every new wave and we must make rapid progress to achieve a recovery that will benefit all our people. ‘
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