June 27 (UPI) — The Irish Parliament elected veteran opposition leader Michael Martin as the country’s new prime minister Saturday.
The lower chamber, the Dail, voted 93-63 with three abstentions to elect Martin, a member of the center-right politician Fianna Fail Party, as taoiseach.
Martin, a 31-year veteran member of Parliament and nine-year party leader, was one of two nominees for the prime minister position. He faced Sinn Fein Party leader Mary Lou McDonald in the election.
Martin will lead an unprecedented three-party government, which includes rival center-right political movements, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, along with a smaller Green Party. He pledged “recovery and renewal” would be the focus of the new government’s priorities amid the coronavirus pandemic, Brexit, a housing crisis, long hospital waiting times and the “existential crisis posed by climate change.”
He added that he was proud to accept the position and the pandemic would be his greatest challenge.
COVID-19 “is the fastest moving recession ever to hit our country and to overcome it we must act with urgency and ambition,” Martin said while addressing the Dail gathered in the Dublin Convention Center, which had enough room to allow for social distancing.
“Our country has shown time and time again that we can overcome the toughest challenges,” he added, “and we will do so again.”
Martin replaces Leo Varadkar, of the Fine Gael Party, who resigned in February after no single political party in the general election won enough of a majority to secure a mandate to govern. He stayed on in a caretaker role since the election. The center-left Sinn Fein Party won a slim lead in seats.
Varadkar, a retired doctor, drew acclaim for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic as he reactivated his medical doctor registration while in office as a caretaker and spent half a day each week fielding calls from people who said they might have contracted the virus.
Elected in 2017, Varadkar was also the country’s first openly gay prime minister.