Martin Cullen

Martin Cullen (Máirtín Ó Cuilinn; born 2 November 1954) is a senior Irish Fianna Fáil politician. He was first elected as a Teachta Dála (TD) for Waterford in 1987 and is the current Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism. Cullen was previously a member of Seanad Éireann (1989–1992) and has also served as Minister for the Environment, Heritage & Local Government (2002–2004), Minister for Transport (2004–2007) and Minister for Social & Family Affairs (2007–2008). Of all the current cabinet ministers, Martin Cullen has consistently attracted most criticism in opinion polls and in the Irish media for under-performance.

Background, early and private life

Martin Cullen was born in Waterford in 1954. He was educated at Waterpark College and the Regional Technical College, Waterford. He is married and has four children - three sons and one daughter. However, in late 2004 he stated that he was separated from his wife, Dorothy.

Cullen's father and grandfather had been Mayor of Waterford, a position Martin Cullen himself later occupied in 1993–94.

Cullen worked as a sales manager for a wine company before becoming interested in politics.

Political career

Cullen was one of 14 Progressive Democrat TDs elected to Dáil Éireann in the 1987 general election, the first election after the party was founded. During his first period as a TD he served as his party's spokesperson on Tourism, Transport & Communications (1987–1988) and Industry & Commerce (1988–1989). Cullen lost his seat at the 1989 general election but was elected to Seanad Éireann instead. During the intervening period he was elected to Waterford City Council, before returning to the Dáil in the 1992 general election.

The following year he was appointed party spokesperson on Enterprise & Employment. In 1994 Cullen became disillusioned with the new party leader, Mary Harney, when he was not allowed stand as a candidate in the European elections. He subsequently resigned from the party, eventually joining Fianna Fáil. In 1997 a Fianna FáilProgressive Democrats coalition government came to power and Cullen was appointed Minister of State at the Department of Finance.

The re-election of the government in 2002 saw Cullen join the Cabinet as Minister for the Environment, Heritage & Local Government. As minister responsible for elections, his department was responsible for the voting system used. When electronic voting was proposed for the 2004 local and European elections, he stood by the proposed system despite opposition from within the Dáil and from some members of the public. When the system was scrapped his reputation was damaged. Arguably more significantly in the long term, he was also the Minister responsible for the Planning and Development(Amendment) Act, 2002. This act amended Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000 to remove the requirement for builders to provide social housing on 20% of their developments. Instead, Cullen's plan allowed builders to subvert this requirement by paying the local council instead and thus ensured that a central motivation of the 2000 Act, namely to avoid run down council estates by integrating public and private housing, was overthrown. As of March 2006 the vast majority of builders have successfully avoided integrating social housing in their new developments and instead opted for making a payment to the local council.

In a cabinet reshuffle in 2004 Cullen was appointed Minister for Transport. During that appointment he became embroiled in even more controversy. Two independent reports have cleared him of any wrong-doing in the awarding of lucrative Public Relations contracts to Monica Leech, who subsequently became President of Waterford Chambers of Commerce.

With the support of a majority of Dáil Éireann, he was minister responsible for the privatisation of Aer Lingus, Ireland's national airline. According to the government this was done as the EU would not easily permit direct government investment in the airline. The sale included Aer Lingus' access slots to various airports including London Heathrow. Some critics at the time suggested that it was important that Ireland, as an island nation, retain control of an airline in order to ensure connectivity to nearby countries. In May 2005, Minister Cullen told Dáil Éireann that "in the context of any decision to reduce State ownership in Aer Lingus, all the options available within the regulatory framework will be examined to ensure adequate ongoing access to Heathrow for Irish consumers". Others, including members of Seanad Éireann and Dáil Éireann raised the issue of the Heathrow slots.

Shortly after the privatisation, Irish-based private airline Ryanair attempted a takeover of Aer Lingus which was eventually blocked by other shareholders including the government (who retained a 28.3% share), Aer Lingus employee groups and inexplicably, Irish businessman Denis O'Brien Minister Cullen maintained throughout that the sale of Aer Lingus was "the right decision".

In August 2007, Aer Lingus announced that it would cease flying from Shannon Airport to London Heathrow Airport, instead using its Heathrow slots to fly from Belfast International Airport in Northern Ireland. This decision caused considerable controversy in the Republic of Ireland. principally due to the loss of connectivity from businesses in the West of Ireland to a major international hub. Local representatives in the Shannon area have claimed that Minister Cullen ignored calls to ring-fence slots for Shannon airport. The airport access slots are held by Aer Lingus for historical reasons, as the national carrier for the Republic of Ireland. This was the first time since the privatisation of Aer Lingus that traditional Irish slots were transferred outside the Irish Republic. Aer Lingus has admitted that they have further slots to lease at Heathrow. It has also been revealed that they intended removing flights from Cork Airport.

Following the 2007 general election, he was appointed as Minister for Social & Family Affairs.

On 7 May 2008, when Brian Cowen became Taoiseach, Cullen was appointed as Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism.


  • "My private life has all been about the arts. There’s probably not an opera theatre in the world that I haven’t been in, all in my own private time, I hasten to add" (14 May 2008) - one week after being appointed as Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism.


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