Mary Lou McDonald is ratified as the new president of Sinn Féin at a special party Ard Fheis on February 10, 2018. Approximately 2,000 party delegates gather for the meeting in Dublin. After almost 35 years, Gerry Adams officially steps down as party leader, a role he has held since November 1983.
McDonald takes the helm with a sweeping speech that touches on everything from abortion to Brexit and promises a united Ireland “in our time.”
McDonald, 48, is the first woman to lead the party, and the first Sinn Féin leader with no direct connection to Ireland’s period of violence known as the Troubles. “We must only agree that the past is never again repeated,” she says. “On other things, we can agree to disagree. The poet Maya Angelou put it well: ‘History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived. But if faced with courage, need not be lived again.’”
McDonald takes over for Adams, a divisive politician who was the face of the Irish republican movement as it shifted from violence to peace. The end of Adams’ tenure marks a new era for the party, which wants to unite the United Kingdom’s Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland to the south.
Adams, who announced in November 2017 he was stepping down after almost 35 years, was the key figure in the peace process that saw the signing of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and the formation of a power sharing government between Northern Ireland’s pro-British and republican factions. But many believe Sinn Féin’s popularity among voters has been hindered by the presence of leaders linked to the Troubles, which killed over 3,600 people.
McDonald immediately puts her own stamp on the future, trying to infuse new energy into the movement that has lawmakers on both sides of the Irish border. But she also focuses on Sinn Féin’s founding principle: a united Ireland. “We are the generation of republicans who will see the rising of the moon,” she says. “Sinn Féin in government, both North and South. Irish unity in our time.”
McDonald also lays out her positions on the key issues of the day.
On the United Kingdom’s upcoming departure from the European Union, or Brexit, she says Sinn Féin will not accept any deal that reinstates border controls between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Brexit represents a threat to the prosperity of Ireland as a whole.
“Ireland will not be the collateral damage in the political games and antics of Tories in London,” she says, referring to the Conservative Party of British Prime Minister Theresa May.
McDonald also says the party will campaign for women’s right to an abortion in Ireland’s upcoming referendum on the issue and says she is committed to reaching an agreement that will restore Northern Ireland’s power sharing government on the basis of “respect and integrity for all.”
Northern Ireland’s last government collapsed more than a year earlier amid a corruption scandal.
(From: “Mary Lou McDonald takes over as Sinn Féin party leader” by Danica Kirka, AP News, apnews.com, February 10, 2018)