Since the general election results of February 2020, party leaders and officials have been denoting parties they will and will not negotiate with ahead of government formation. The previous majority party, Fine Gael, lost 12 seats in the general election on 7 February. This week Fine Gael expressed its expectation to go into opposition in the Irish government, a move which would remove them from the arena of potential leadership.
With the emphasis on the parties, what do we really know about the potential leaders of the next government?
The current leader, Leo Varadkar, is 41 years old. He was born in the Rotunda hospital in Dublin. His father is from Mumbai in India and his mother was born in Dungarvan in County Waterford, Ireland.
His political career officially began when he was 20 years old when he replaced Sheila Terry as the Castleknock Representative on the Fingal County Council in 2003. He reached his political pinnacle in June 2017 when he replaced Enda Kenny as Taoiseach of Ireland.
This Thursday, TDs in the Dáil will vote for who they wish to replace Leo Varadkar as Taoiseach. The two biggest contenders are Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald and Fianna Fáil’s Micheál Martin. If nobody is elected, the Dáil will adjourn.
Mary Lou McDonald was born in Dublin in May 1969. She was one of four children and grew up in Rathgar in Dublin. Her parents separated when she was nine years old. She attended Notre Dame Des Missions secondary school in Churchtown where she found she had a penchant for public debating.
She went on to obtain a BA in English Literature in Trinity College Dublin and an MA in European Integration Studies in 1995.
Ms. McDonald married Martin Lanigan in 1996 and they have since had two children. They currently live in Cabra in Dublin. Mr. Lanigan works for Gas Network Ireland.
Mary Lou McDonald began her political career with Fianna Fáil by attending party meetings but later moved into Sinn Féin: “It became clear to me that I was in the wrong party”.
In 2004 she was elected to the European Parliament as the first Sinn Féin MEP, a seat she lost in 2009. After two failed attempts, she was elected as the TD for the Dublin Central constituency in the 2011 general election. In 2018, she succeeded Gerry Adams as the leader of the Sinn Féin party.
In the 2020 general election on 7 February, Sinn Féin won 37 out of the 159 seats up for grabs. Sinn Féin had 42 candidates running in the election. They won the highest amount of first preference votes which deems them the popular vote.
Next up for the position of Taoiseach is Micheál Martin. Mr. Martin was born in Cork in August 1960. He was the third child born out of five.
Mr. Martin was awarded a BA in Arts from University College Cork. While in UCC, he joined Ógra Fianna Fáil (Young Fianna Fáil) and later went on to become its Chairman. After his degree, Micheál Martin obtained an MA in Political History and subsequently became a secondary school history teacher in Cork after completing a H.Dip.
Mr. Martin met his wife, Mary O’Shea while at university and they have since had five children. One of his children, Ruairí, fell victim to cot death as an infant. Another of his children, Leana, died at age seven from a cardiac condition she developed shortly before she passed away.
Micheál Martin rarely speaks publicly about these tragic events. Four years after Leana’s death, when appearing on the Late Late Show with RTÉ’s Ryan Tubridy, he said “We lost the light of our lives. She was a beautiful girl and we loved her very much”. He told Mr. Tubridy that his other children gave him and his wife a purpose during that time.
Mr. Martin worked as a teacher for only one year. He was elected to Cork City Council as a Fianna Fáil candidate in 1985 and was later elected as a TD for Cork South Central in 1989. He also served as Lord Mayor of Cork in 1992.
In 1997, Mr. Martin became the Minister for Education and Science under Bertie Ahern. In 2000, he succeeded Brian Cowen as Minister for Health and Children. In 2004, Micheál Martin took over as Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and then as Minister for Foreign Affairs from 2008- 2011. In 2011, he succeeded Brian Cowen again, this time as leader of the Fianna Fáil party.
Micheál Martin is notorious in the Dáil for his healthy lifestyle. There is a vegetable stir fry available on the canteen menu in the Dáil which is named after him. While most of us crave a chicken fillet roll the morning after, Mr. Martin’s cure for a rare hangover is a banana.
On the 7th of February, 38 Fianna Fáil TDs were elected (one of whom was Seán Ó’Fearghaíl who is serving as the current Ceann Comhairle and who was not up for reelection as his seat was guaranteed).
Neither party has the majority necessary to form a government. As a result, a coalition of some sort is likely. Mary Lou McDonald has publicly announced that Sinn Féin will speak to every party. Fianna Fáil have vowed not to enter into negotiations with Sinn Féin. With tensions high and a solution seemingly unlikely, it is possible a second general election will be called in Ireland in the coming months.