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Sunday 19 November 2017

Tenacious battler who could no longer fight his corner

Michael Brennan Political Correspondent

MARTIN Cullen had a cabinet career spanning four different ministries -- but he will be best remembered for the e-voting controversy.

As Environment Minister, he repeatedly defended the €52m system planned by his predecessor Noel Dempsey and insisted it would be ready for use in the local and European elections.

But even when the commission set up by the Government found it could not vouch for the machines' security, Mr Cullen denied it was a €52m "shipwreck" and claimed the machines could be used after being upgraded.

To save the Government political embarrassment, they were put in storage, racking up even more costs for the taxpayer. It is only now that plans are afoot to finally scrap them.

But those pictures of Mr Cullen launching the machines have been endlessly re-used.

As if the e-voting scandal was not enough to contend with, Mr Cullen also had to fight off false accusations that he was having an affair with Waterford businesswoman Monica Leech.

But he attracted criticism earlier this year when he said his "horrendous" trial-by-media experience was like being raped on a daily basis.

In his early career, Mr Cullen worked as an area sales manager with drinks company Edward Dillon.

He was later appointed chief executive of the Federation of Transport Operators (FOTO), which represents private bus operators.


Mr Cullen made a political breakthrough in 1987 as a member of Dessie O'Malley's new Progressive Democrats party, and took a seat in Waterford which had previously been held by Fine Gael.

He served as Mayor of Waterford from 1993 to 1994, a position which had been held by both his father and grandfather as independent politicians.

Mr Cullen suffered a setback in 1989 when he lost his seat. He won it back in 1992, but backed the wrong horse in the PD leadership contest (Pat Cox instead of Mary Harney) and then quit the PDs entirely in 1994.

He held on to his seat for Fianna Fail in Waterford in the 1997 General Election and was made a junior minister at the Office of Public Works.

But as a recent "convert" to Fianna Fail, he was never fully trusted in the party.

However, that did not prevent him being appointed Environment Minister in 2002.

During his time there he did introduced legislation (the Residential Tenancies Act) which radically improved the rights of tenants who were previously at the mercy of the landlords.

As the e-voting machines controversy refused to die, he was transferred to the Department of Transport in the mid-term reshuffle in 2004.

There he presided over the €34bn Transport 21 programme, which led to massive funds being pumped into roads, railways and buses.

Mr Cullen was appointed as Minister for Social and Family Affairs by then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern but was transferred to the lower-profile Department of Arts, Sports and Tourism when Taoiseach Brian Cowen took over.

Mr Cullen has three sons and a daughter with his Danish wife Dorthe but the couple are separated.

He was always a tenacious politician but his crippling back problem meant that fighting his corner was becoming ever more difficult.

And it ultimately forced his resignation -- and saved Mr Cowen at least one difficult decision in his forthcoming cabinet reshuffle.

Although he could be relied on to loyally defend Fianna Fail policy, he caused a minor stir in 2003 when he challenged the smoking ban being introduced by Micheal Martin.

Admitting to being a 40-a-day man, he said the smoking ban would be impossible to implement.

But like his claim that e-voting machines would be re-used, history has proven otherwise.

Irish Independent

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