Sinn Fein's new leader to work towards Irish unity

Ms Mary Lou McDonald says "there is no value in re-fighting the battles of the past".
Ms Mary Lou McDonald says "there is no value in re-fighting the battles of the past".

DUBLIN • Ms Mary Lou McDonald, the new president of Ireland's Sinn Fein republican movement, represents a break with the party's past as the political voice of the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

The 48-year-old mother of two faces a daunting task in following Mr Gerry Adams, the charismatic figurehead of the leftwing party since 1983, and leading it into a new future - one it hopes will see it topping elections either side of the Irish border.

Its primary objective is Irish reunification, bringing Northern Ireland out of Britain and into the Republic of Ireland.

Sinn Fein has shared power in Northern Ireland since 2007 and is in talks to restore devolved government in the British province, but it has never governed in the Republic where it has established itself as the third largest party.

Ms McDonald began her tenure with a first speech as leader last Saturday vowing to work towards Irish unity "in our time" while noting "there is no value in re-fighting the battles of the past".

Unlike Mr Adams, 69, who grew up in the sectarian environment of Belfast, Ms McDonald came from an upper-class neighbourhood in Dublin. She studied English literature, European integration and human resource management, before working in consultancy and research.

A former member of the centre-right Fianna Fail party before her departure in 1998, she first ran for Sinn Fein in 2002, standing unsuccessfully in Dublin West. But she later became the party's first Member of the European Parliament, representing a seat in the Republic in 2004.

Ms McDonald became the party's deputy leader in 2009 and in 2011 won a seat in the Irish Parliament, representing Dublin Central. Promoted by Mr Adams over the years, she became his designated successor.

The shadow of the now-defunct IRA still hangs over the party, which is now trying to gain respectability through social action.

Ms McDonald is outspoken on issues such as inequality and public services. However, she is accused of following the traditional party line and being lenient towards the actions of the IRA.

She also wants to get Sinn Fein into government in Dublin, after decades of growth in the polls; something which some MPs and commentators thought was impossible with Mr Adams as its frontman.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 12, 2018, with the headline 'Sinn Fein's new leader to work towards Irish unity'. Print Edition | Subscribe