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Who is Michael McGrath? Father-of-seven and former accountant’s long political career leads to Europe

Minister for Finance spends as much time on the sidelines as he can watching his children’s sporting exploits

Sarah McGrath, wife of Minister for Finance Michael McGrath, with the couple’s seven children and Fianna Fáil TD Niamh Smyth and FF senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee

He sat his Leaving Certificate at only 16, contested his first election at 22 and delivered his first budget as minister for finance at the age of 47.

Now, Fianna Fáil Cork South Central TD and father-of-seven Michael McGrath is on the verge of becoming Ireland’s next European Commissioner.

Within the Department of Finance – and also within the Department of Public Expenditure where he was previously the Minister – officials who work alongside McGrath note with semi-puzzlement that he is genuinely interested in the deepest intricacies of the Irish tax system. Instead of being worn down by the process of delivering Budget 2024, he told those around him that he loved it. When he unveiled the last budget, he became the first Fianna Fáil Minister to do so in more than a decade.

It was not lost on political observers that, notwithstanding the scale of the €14 billion package, McGrath was keen to place a strong emphasis on caution and prudence. “I will manage our nation’s finances carefully for the sake of the generations that come after us,” he told the Dáil while announcing multi-billion euro future-proof funds.


Cliff Taylor: Big budget uncertainty if Michael McGrath heads to BrusselsOpens in new window ]

After years of struggling to shake off accusations by Fine Gael and others of “wrecking the economy”, McGrath’s even-handed and calm delivery of a budget that was both large in scope but also future-aware was a key moment for Fianna Fáil in repairing its standing with the public and detoxifying the brand.

McGrath appears to have inherited a lot of his work ethic from his late father Jack who worked as a manual labourer on a range of jobs from factory worker to van driver. He has previously spoken about how money was tight when he was growing up as one of five children. His mother, Marie, worked as a housewife and McGrath has described her as a “rock who is there for us at any time, no matter what”. She takes a keen interest in her son’s career and was recently spotted in April at the Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis.

McGrath became the first in his family to go to college. Having studied Commerce at UCC, he went on to qualify as a chartered accountant before going on to work in both the private and public sector.

Attention turns to who will deliver Coalition’s last Budget as Michael McGrath heads to BrusselsOpens in new window ]

Interested in politics, history and current affairs, he contested his first election at the age of 22 in the local town council in Passage West. He worked as the financial controller for Red FM but later quit his secure job to run in the 2007 general election for Fianna Fáil. He was elected on his first attempt and has been re-elected in every election since: 2011, 2016 and 2020.

Appointed as the party’s spokesman for finance in 2011, he responded to nine budgets from the Opposition benches. He was a central member of the party’s negotiating team in the government formation talks and in June 2020, was appointed as minister for public expenditure and reform.

In his personal life, he is not a politician who is often spotted out at high-profile events and seems content to spend his spare time on the sidelines of pitches, with his five boys and two girls playing a vast array of different sports. Earlier this year, he spoke to The Irish Times about the challenges of preparing a budget while trying to be present in a large family.

“Working parents, generally, will understand the juggling that is involved in working full time. We both work full-time and raise children. It’s a trade-off. You’d love to have more time with them but you also have an important job to do and you want to set a good example about work ethic and having ambition and doing your best and making a difference.

“Life is very busy, it is very full. I enjoy spending all of my downtime with them, generally at their matches on the sidelines getting cold and enjoying the victories and the defeats and being there with them as much as I possibly can.”

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times