Mairia Cahill, an outspoken critic of Sinn Fein, has said it is “doubtful” that the party’s president-elect Mary Lou McDonald can gain the trust of unionists.
Ms Cahill said: “Writing in the Sunday Independent in 2014, I stated that Mary Lou needed to gain the trust of the IRA Belfast Brigade in order to reach the top of Sinn Fein – that she ‘needed to go from being her own woman, to being theirs.’ Her staunch defence of Gerry Adams has cemented her reliability in the party, yet tainted her credibility with southerners.
“She once described...the arrest of Gerry Adams in connection with the Jean McConville investigation as ‘politically motivated.’
“Gaining the trust of the IRA is one thing. There is much work still to be done if Sinn Fein want to gain the trust of unionism.”
Commenting on Ms McDonald’s political career to date, Ms Cahill told the News Letter it has been “a remarkable journey,”
She said: “Born and raised in the leafy suburbs of middle class Dublin, a world away from the conflict unfolding on the streets of Northern Ireland, the 48-year-old mother-of-two had a relatively short period of time in Sinn Fein, leaving Fianna Fail to join them in 1998, before her elevation to position on their ard comhairle in 2001.
“It caused some disquiet among activists in Belfast, she was untried and untrusted at that stage, but her steadfastness at defending he party leader over various controversies throughout the last number of years, coupled with her capability and acerbic forensic questioning of opposition parties has won over northern hardliners to allow her to run unopposed for a position which until recently has been in the lap of Gerry Adams for decades.
“Relatively little is known about her in Northern Ireland, particularly to the unionist community, as Northern Sinn Feiners prefer to put themselves forward as spokespeople in relation to talks and Assembly affairs.
“Mary Lou has been to date, largely a southern story.”
Ms Cahill added: “Quoted as saying she is ‘not exactly a shrinking violet,’ she has been described as ‘Marmite’ on one than one occasion in the past, largely due to the fact that while formidable as a politician, her tone at times is hectoring and verging on arrogant.
“If there is anything that has damaged her, it is the misreading of how her manner, particularly on sensitive topics, can repel people who would otherwise consider voting for Sinn Fein. It remains to be seen whether the ‘Mary Lou’ factor will provide a bounce for the party in the next general election in the Republic.
“However, there is a different image projected of her at times, particularly internally within the party, of one that is warm and funny, and she has a track record of encouragement for young women coming up through the ranks.
“In short, she resonates with women within Sinn Fein and might well attract new membership.”
Ms Cahill said that, thus far, the new Sinn Fein leader has made all the right noises to satisfy republicans, but made a number of statement deemed “offensive” to unionists.
“While much has been made of a potential new start for a new party leader, Mary Lou has made little impact in reaching out to this section of the community,” Ms Cahill said.