Mary Lou is an enigma with leadership in sight

It’s a cliché to say that Mary Lou McDonald is an enigma, but it’s true. Friendly, warm and approachable but never quite revealing herself. An outspoken who seems to shoot from the hip but doesn’t say anything that hasn’t been carefully considered.

The embodiment of the educated privilege of the Dublin 6 middle class that peddles a persuasive anti-establishment line and attracts the kind of worshiping melees last seen in Bertie Ahern’s heyday. A non-dogmatic and practicing Catholic who finds the New Testament’s message of hope, deliverance and social justice very appealing, but who will always be overshadowed by the violent associations of Sinn Féin.

A woman who values ​​open-mindedness and independence of mind, but who faces serious questions about who exactly makes party decisions.

For the older generations who have lived through the Troubles, these questions are existential. When the party leader insists – as she did in a recent RTÉ interview with Joe Duffy on The Meaning of Life – that the outrages of the IRA are history, that it “cannot undo the past ”and that his ethical duty as a“ peacetime leader ”is never to go back, that seems fair enough.

It all had context, she said, it was all due to the failure of the policy. It would be “an extraordinary request for people to take responsibility for everything of the past – it must be history,” she said, stressing that we have the choice between an ethical duty to chart the future or to constantly seek the past. , not to bring healing but to achieve it because we cannot go beyond it.

The idea that Sinn Féin is not an ordinary political party persists for a reason

But how can people reconcile this with the public commemorations of his own elected and distinguished colleagues of the IRA atrocities that have occurred in living memory – colleagues who may well be called in as ministers in the probable event that McDonald would become taoiseach?

The idea that Sinn Féin is not an ordinary political party persists for a reason. Any journalist who has written reviews of the party speaks with sadness of the ensuing stacks that come with particular benefit and can mysteriously evaporate in an instant.

She is by no means the only person to say that she would have joined the IRA under other circumstances and is probably one of the millions who have had at least one grandparent driven by a “very nationalist Republican ethic.” and very old, ”as she described it. grandmother Molly to Mary Banotti for the 2008 book There’s Something About Mary.

But most people never acted on the impulse of the youth to join the IRA or went beyond a raucous chorus of The Men Behind the Wire during a song by Wolfe Tones.

His rise and rise in Sinn Féin is part of the McDonald’s conundrum. The decision to join the party was not motivated by a youthful impulse. She was about 32 years old when she left Fianna Fáil. She chose Sinn Féin as her political home, she said, because it mixed up the social justice agenda and “that momentum towards the end of partition.” No other party – not even Fianna Fáil: the Republican Party – would do. The difference is you can believe it and say it rhetorically or you can go out and do it, she told Joe Duffy.

Within a few years, she was the party’s candidate for West Dublin in the 2002 by-election and the main spokesperson for a tribute from Sinn Féin to Sean Russell, former IRA chief of staff. and Nazi collaborator. Last year, she led the party to a historic triumph in the general election and became Leader of the Opposition.

Polls suggest Sinn Féin has consolidated her position in the meantime, but 2020 has been a test for her and the party. She fell very ill with Covid-19 in its most terrifying phase towards the end of March, when horror scenes in Italy dominated the news. The disease subsided as she developed pleurisy in one lung. As an asthma sufferer, she warned against complacency, saying “you don’t have to be over 70, younger people have it too.” The children’s school had been closed before the others and how she got it remains a mystery forever.

Meanwhile, the momentum towards a united Ireland has fully spread this week.

As a lightning rod for the public’s backlash against the restrictions, he has placed the party in an awkward position of accountability over public health policy while maintaining the voice of the opposition. Sinn Féin has also had to deal with various eruptions regarding its online activities, not to mention the ruling parties that suddenly poured money into various sectors in the face of shutdowns that could not be blamed on anyone.

Meanwhile, the momentum towards a united Ireland fully spread this week, when Tánaiste Leo Varadkar kicked off Fine Gael Ard Fhéis with a speech that, coming from Fine Gael, provoked strong breaths all over the country. Varadkar believes “in the unification of our island and I think it can happen in my lifetime,” he said. While the views of trade unionists must be “recognized, understood and respected”, he insisted that “no group can veto the future of Ireland”. Moreover, the unity debate did not belong to any party.

Varadkar was undoubtedly throwing the gauntlet at the only party contesting Fine Gael in the polls. The Summer Nights interview with Mary Lou McDonald will take place a week before the Dublin Bay South by-election. It should be captivating.

Mary Lou McDonald will join Kathy Sheridan for a discussion on her life, politics and thoughts on a United Ireland on Tuesday 29 June at 7.45 p.m. as part of The Irish Times Summer Nights festival. For tickets, go toirishtimes.com/summernights. A single ticket priced at € 50 allows ticket holders to access all festival events and have additional access to view each event after the festival ends. Irish Times digital subscribers can purchase tickets at a reduced price of € 25. Just make sure you are logged in before purchasing and the discount will be applied automatically.


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