Former Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin has been elected as the head of the Fianna Fail party, it has been announced.

He won the leadership contest handily defeating Brian Lenihan, Finance Minister, Eamon O Cuiv, Social Responsibility Minister and Mary Hanafin, Tourism Minster.

He replaces current prime minister Brian Cowen who will step down as the leader of the Government after the election.

Martin (50) who is a native of Cork, was the expected victor after he became the only candidate to oppose Cowen during a previous leadership battle.

He has extensive experience in government ministries, including as health and enterprise minister. He is best known for introducing a smoking ban in public places, including pubs, during his time as health minister. His young daughter died tragically recently of a heart ailment.

Now he faces a very tough task leading Fianna Fail into an election in late February where they are expected to lose heavily and be out of power for at least two elections.

He won the first count with 34 votes to his nearest rival O Cuiv’s 15, Lenihan had 14 and Hanafin 10.