Micheál Martin is elected leader of Fianna Fáil on January 26, 2011. He beats the competition of finance minister Brian Lenihan, tourism minister Mary Hanafin, and social protection minister Éamon Ó Cuív. He replaces Brian Cowan who stepped down on January 22. During his acceptance speech, the new leader apologises for mistakes he and the Government made in managing the economy but says the most important thing is to learn from these mistakes.
Martin has been a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Cork South-Central constituency since 1989. He previously serves as Minister for Education and Science and Lord Mayor of Cork from 1992 to 1993, Minister for Health and Children from 2000 to 2004, Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment from 2004 to 2008, Minister for Foreign Affairs from 2008 to 2011, and Leader of the Opposition in Ireland from 2011 to 2020.
While Martin is Minister for Health and Children in 2004, he introduces a ban on tobacco smoking in all Irish workplaces and establishes the Health Service Executive (HSE). Ireland is the first country to introduce a full workplace smoking ban. As Foreign Minister, in 2009, he travels to Latin America for the first time, and makes the first official visit to Cuba by an Irish Minister. That same year, he travels to Khartoum following the kidnapping of Sharon Commins and Hilda Kawuki. In 2010, he becomes the first Western foreign minister to visit Gaza since Hamas took control there in 2007.
In January 2011, Martin resigns as Minister for Foreign Affairs and is subsequently elected as the eighth leader of Fianna Fáil following Cowen’s resignation as party leader. In the 2011 Irish general election, he leads the party to its worst showing in its 85-year history, with a loss of 57 seats and a drop in its share of the popular vote to 17.4%. In the 2016 Irish general election, Fianna Fáil’s performance improves significantly, more than doubling their Dáil representation from 20 to 44 seats. In the 2020 Irish general election, Fianna Fáil becomes the largest party, attaining the most seats at 38, one seat ahead of Sinn Féin with 37 seats. He is appointed Taoiseach on June 27, 2020, leading a grand coalition with longtime rival Fine Gael and the Green Party as part of a historic deal. Under the terms of the agreement, Martin’s predecessor, Leo Varadkar, becomes Tánaiste, and will swap roles with Martin in December 2022.