Micheál Martin elected as eighth leader of Fianna Fáil


Former minister for foreign affairs Micheál Martin has been elected as the new leader of Fianna Fáil.

Mr Martin won a secret ballot of the parliamentary party this afternoon to become the eighth leader of the party.

He received 33 votes in the first round of voting using proportional representation, followed by Éamon Ó Cuív on 15 votes, Brian Lenihan on 14, and Mary Hanafin on 10.

After Ms Hanafin's votes were reallocated, Mr Martin had 36, while Mr Lenihan and Mr Ó Cuív had 18 votes each. On elimination of Mr Lenihan, the final result was 50 votes for Mr Martin and 22 for Mr Ó Cuív.

At a press conference this evening Mr Martin described his victory as a “great honour” and thanked fellow leadership candidates for the “spirit” in which the election was held. He said he believed in the “tradition” of the Fianna Fáil party and that it has a “unique and positive role” to play in the country’s future. It would use its younger and female members to try to connect with a wider base of voters, he said.

He said at its most “creative and effective” the party has always been committed to a “middle way” and that the “empty slogans of the left and right have never delivered to the people of this modern democracy”.

Under his leadership the party will be "clear in its approach to the urgent issues of today and in the path it proposes for the future," he said, adding: “With the right policies Ireland can and will come through this crisis.”

He said Fianna Fáil would pursue policies that showed it understood what went wrong in recent years.He later added: “I am very sorry for the mistakes we made as a party and I made as a minister.”

Mr Martin said he would outline his party’s policies for the general election campaign in the coming days but that core points would include tackling the fiscal deficit, job creation and education. He refused to speculate on how many seats he believed Fianna Fáil could win in the general election but said he was determined to increase its support base.

Ahead of one of the “most important elections” in the country’s history Mr Martin said the traditional model of election debates is “seriously flawed and must change” and he therefore has written to the leaders of Fine Gael and Labour challenging them to a series of debates.

“Specifically I have asked them to agree to hold two debates between us three, one at the start of the campaign and one at the end…in addition there will be a series of one-to-one debates between us and a separate debate in the Irish language,” he added.

Mr Martin said he would soon announce his deputy leader, director of elections and front bench. He said the days of appointing friends and supporters to higher profile positions in the party were over.

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore later congratulated Mr Martin and said the proposals for a series of debates are “acceptable in principle”.

Mr Gilmore said his party has already held preliminary discussions with RTÉ and TV3 on the issue before adding that the three parties need to enter discussions to “finalise logistical and other technical issues to allow the debates to proceed”.

Earlier the Taoiseach congratulated Mr Martin and offered him his full support.

He described Mr Martin as a politician of “accomplishment and achievement” with all the “right credentials” to be a very successful leader of the party.

“I believe Micheál has proven in his various ministerial roles over the years that he has the essential leadership qualities of focused determination, stamina, collegiality and integrity, which will enable him to become a great leader of the Fianna Fáil party.

Mr Cowen also extended his best wishes to Mr Martin’s family on this “proud day”.

The Minister for Finance, defeated in the contest, also pledged his support to Mr Martin.

In a statement Mr Lenihan thanked his colleagues in the party who showed him “courtesy and good will” during the leadership contest.

“We must now concentrate on the forthcoming election . . . Fianna Fáil will now unite behind the new leader and bring our case to the people,” he added.

Tonight Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin criticised Mr Martin for refusing to engage in an inclusive debate with all party leaders.

Mr Ó Caoláin said: “Once again a Fianna Fáil leader is engaged in the politics of exclusion and only willing to debate with parties from the consensus for cuts.”

“Unfortunately Fianna Fáil’s new leader has started off with more of the same…Ahern, Cowen, Martin - will it ever change?” he asked.