What effect will it have on Scotland if Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald takes power in Ireland?


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Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald Photo: PA

Mary Lou McDonald: A Republican Enigma

Shane Ross

Atlantic Books priced at £16.99

Review by Neil Mackay

THE new biography of Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald is already causing a stir in Ireland. McDonald’s husband is said to have threatened to sue the author, Shane Ross – an Irish journalist and politician – over questions he asked about buying a luxury family home.
Sinn Fein likes to control the message – as illustrated by McDonald’s refusal to co-operate with Ross, even though the pair enjoyed a relatively friendly relationship when they worked together on an important committee of the Dail, the Irish Parliament. Obviously, those days are over.
Not surprising. The woman who emerges here is an unsettling character – a shapeshifter at best. What is she? A nice bourgeoise or an apologist for terror? As the book’s subtitle says, McDonald’s is a “Republican enigma.” And maybe that’s the point. If voters fail to pin her down, McDonald’s can work her way through the Irish electorate to power.
It’s important for people to understand McDonald’s. She could well be the next Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of Ireland. With Sinn Fein’s deputy leader Michelle O’Neill, already Northern Ireland’s first minister in waiting, if McDonald took the Dail, Sinn Fein would control the whole island. It would be a historic moment: a transformation from pariah to power. And McDonald is at the heart of this transformation – she is a symbol of Sinn Fein’s metamorphosis.
McDonald’s is ‘clean’ – she wasn’t in the IRA. She’s a professional politician – not an ‘army’, as Sinn Fein’s old guard like Martin McGuinness are called.
McDonald rarely talks about his mischievous father and seems to need father figures. She portrays her mother as a saint and can call on a strong Republican pedigree given that her great-uncle, who fought the Blacks and Tans in the Irish War of Independence, was executed.
She wasn’t exactly “born at the mansion”, but was a privately educated schoolgirl who claims her Republican path to Damascus was due to the death of Bobby Sands during the hunger strikes. As a young woman, however, she seems to have been relatively indifferent to politics, preferring her boyfriend – now husband – and her perpetual student life.
McDonald first joined mainstream Fianna Fáil – the party of Albert Reynolds, Bertie Ahern and current Taoiseach Micheál Martin – something she is now downplaying to a Republican audience. Yet she quickly moved to Sinn Fein, when it was still relatively untouchable. McDonald’s has become something of a “project” for party chairman Gerry Adams. His lily-white credentials offered respectability to Sinn Fein and Adams offered him an advancement.
Once inside, however, McDonald’s went deep. She spoke at a memorial for Sean Russell, an IRA leader who collaborated with the Nazis. Brian Keenan, a former IRA army council member, was at his side. She rose quickly through the party ranks through Adams, meeting Tony Blair early on – alongside McGuinness – as Sinn Fein’s chief delegate.
She became an MEP in the European Parliament – ​​sitting with Sinn Fein in a bloc of weird communist eccentrics. Sinn Fein paved the way for their election to the Dail, dismissing any party member if necessary. McDonald’s has a luxury home even though Sinn Fein claims all elected members are paid “the average industrial wage”. Ross says she is the 29th richest person in Ireland.

So much in the book leaves the reader uneasy. The author says McDonald chose to defend Adams for his stance on the “unspeakable horrors” committed by the IRA. However, there are times when Ross shows McDonald was a force for good in the Dail – particularly in holding public figures accountable for abuses of privilege and power.
Yet she is a riot of the mob – a theatrical populist. As Ross points out, McDonald and Nigel Farage “actually appeared together…both calling for a No vote against the EU tax treaty”. McDonald was once ordered out of the Dail due to her behavior but refused, portraying herself as both victim and heroine.
Yet she has no qualms about carrying the coffins of brutal men like Joe Cahill, a former IRA commander who was sentenced to death for his role in the murder of a police officer during World War II. The sentence was commuted after the intervention of America and the Vatican.
McDonald’s is coated in so much IRA filth throughout this book. According to Ross, she “defended Adams’ corner during the execution” of a young mother by the IRA; she took “the Adams line” about a woman raped by an IRA member; she ‘refused to endorse’ the case of a family whose son was beaten to death by the IRA; she was “passive and silent” in the face of Gerry Adams’ support for her friend Slab Murphy, awkwardly following her leader in calling the alleged former IRA leader a good republican; and she ‘chose to insult the memory of 10 innocent dead victims’ by granting a ‘fool’s pardon’ to a prominent Republican activist turned Sinn Fein politician who mocked a mass murder. Victim groups accuse him of commemorating “serial killers”.
McDonald’s greatest asset is its ability to change form depending on its audience. If it’s Dublin’s middle class, then it’s a social justice warrior. If she’s in the north to meet former hardliners, she’ll sit on podiums bearing posters of crossed guns. His genius was his ability to synthesize these two constituencies. Perhaps the most telling moment in Sinn Fein’s transformation came when McDonald carried McGuinness’ coffin. A politician, with no criminal and violent history, literally burying the macho military past.
She exploited Ireland’s political exhaustion in the face of the prevailing bipartisanship and positioned herself as an agent of radical change, supporting the legalization of abortion. As we know, the 21st century is made for such troublemakers. And young people are beginning to forget what his party once stood for.
Now that she is in complete control of Sinn Fein, after Adams’ retirement, the question remains: will a woman like her really put aside the ugliness of the past once in power, or will she simply hide the truth about what she really is and who she really is? Of course, it will not allay any union fears. And what would be the effect of ruling Sinn Fein, both in the north and south of Ireland, on Scotland? Would this reshape the independence debate?
As Ross says in closing, the big question is not whether McDonald will ever be Taoiseach – she will be – but whether she will be the woman who will unite Ireland.

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