Micheal Martin, leader of Fianna Fail (Republican Party), said on Saturday his party is now hopeful of securing up to 40 seats as the largest opposition party made a number of gains in the first count with 18 TDs (member of parliament) elected to the 32nd Dail Eireann, the lower house of Irish parliament.
Martin was born in the bustling Cork City suburb of Turners Cross in County Cork, on the southern tip of Ireland.
Like the incumbent prime minister (Taoiseach) Enda Kenny, Martin is the third child in a family of five. His father who represented Ireland in international boxing and was a bus driver in Cork, was an activist and unionist and is sometimes credited as having ignited an interest in politics in three of his sons, two of whom (Micheal Martin and his eldest brother Sean) were once elected Lord Mayor of Cork.
With a Masters degree in Political History from University College Cork, Martin had taught at secondary school for a year before running for office in a local election at the tender age of 25. His first attempt to run for office at the national level in 1987 as a Fianna Fail candidate for TD was unsuccessful. However, he was elected on his second attempt in 1989, and has been reelected in every subsequent election.
As TD, Martin served on Fianna Fail’s front bench and in four cabinet posts. At age 36, he was the youngest member of then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern’s cabinet in his role as Minister for Education an Science (1997-2000). During his tenure, he increased spending on education, and introduced a review of the primary school curriculum and provision of special needs assistants in the classroom.
As Minister for Health (2000-2004), Martin is accredited with instituting a ban on smoking in public spaces despite vocal opposition, making Ireland the first country in Europe to do so. He subsequently served as Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (2004-2008), when the Grocers Order that prohibited competitive pricing on goods was abolished.
Martin covered new ground as Minister for Foreign Affairs (2008-2011). In 2009, he became the first Irish foreign minister to make an official visit to Cuba; and in 2010 he was the first Western foreign minister to visit Gaza since Hamas took control in 2007 when he visited the area on a one-day humanitarian mission through the Egyptian border, accompanied by UN Forces. However, he caused a stir for a racist gaffe when he mimicked a Chinese accent while announcing Fianna Fail’s job plan in 2011.
He was elected to lead Fianna Fail in 2011 following the resignation of Brian Cowen. The Fianna Fail party was held largely responsible for policies that lead to Ireland’s economic crisis that ended the Celtic Tiger years, and in the general elections held later that year, the party suffered the worst defeat of a sitting government in Irish history, losing 51 of its 71 seats in the Dail.
Martin is married to Mary O’Shea whom he met in University College Cork. Ms. O’Shea was a former Fianna Fail national youth organizer. She has a Master’s degree in local government and has lectured on public administration in the Department of Government at UCC. They have five children, three surviving: a son died in infancy in 1999, and their youngest daughter died in 2010 of a heart condition.