Mary Lou McDonald – private-school educated opponent of Dublin Orange parade

Sinn Fein president-elect Mary Lou McDonald addresses supporters at the Balmoral Hotel in Belfast at the weekend
Sinn Fein president-elect Mary Lou McDonald addresses supporters at the Balmoral Hotel in Belfast at the weekend

Sinn Fein’s new president is a private-school educated English Literature graduate who vehemently opposed an Orange Order parade in Dublin, and last year praised the ‘volunteers of the IRA’s Tyrone brigade’.

Mary Lou McDonald will take over from Gerry Adams who has led the party since 1983.

Mary Lou McDonald speaking at the IRA 'Derry Volunteers' dance in 2016

Mary Lou McDonald speaking at the IRA 'Derry Volunteers' dance in 2016

She was born in Dublin in May 1969 and grew up in the leafy suburbs of Rathgar, attending the fee-paying Notre Dame des Missions school in the city.

She was one of four children born to building contractor Patrick McDonald and wife Joan.

Her parents separated when she was nine-years-old and the four children lived with their mother.

Ms McDonald has been quoted as saying the IRA hunger strike in the Maze prison, when she was 12-years-old, was a ‘road to Damascus’ moment in terms of shaping her political outlook.

Mary Lou McDonald (centre) with Michelle O'Neill and Gerry Adams at the Bobby Sands mural on the Falls Road in Belfast

Mary Lou McDonald (centre) with Michelle O'Neill and Gerry Adams at the Bobby Sands mural on the Falls Road in Belfast

She has also credited her maternal grandmother Molly as a big influence.

Interviewed for a book by former Fine Gael MEP Mary Banotti, she described her grandmother as “very political in her thinking, very nationalist, very old-style republican”.

While studying English Literature at Trinity College Dublin, the young Ms McDonald avoided politics in favour of immersing herself in the works of Beckett and Plath.

She subsequently took a Master’s degree in European Integration Studies at University College Limerick, and after college, worked for the Dublin-based think-tank the Institute of International and European Affairs.

Writing in his 2015 book, Power Play: The Rise of Modern Sinn Fein, Deaglan de Breadun states that her first foray into politics came in the mid-1990s when she joined the non-party campaign group the Irish National Congress (INC).

An INC newsletter dated April 2000, which announced Mary Lou McDonald as the group’s chair, also revealed plans for an INC protest in Dublin.

The demonstration was against the Dublin and Wicklow branch of the Orange Order who planned to hold a march and plaque unveiling at Dawson Street – commemorating the first meeting of the Grand Lodge of Ireland held in April 1798.

The Orange parade was eventually called off with the republican counter-demonstrators accused of intimidation.

In a letter to the Irish Times on May 10 that year, Ms McDonald denied there had been intimidation and denied further claims that the Orange Order had been ‘demonised’ by herself and other opponents.

In another letter to the Irish Times dated June 27, she said one of the reasons for a subsequent INC protest in Dublin – when the Orange Order plaque was unveiled by the city’s lord mayor – was “to remind elected representatives of their responsibility to live free from sectarian harassment, as expressed in the Good Friday Agreement”.

Ms McDonald has one older brother, Bernard, and two younger siblings, twins Patrick and Joanne. During the last decade her sister Joanne has been actively involved with socialist republican party Eirigi.

In de Breadan’s book, the Dublin TD is quoted as saying: “We are a very, very close family.”

Ms McDonald married Martin Lanigan in 1996 and they have two children.

She stood in the 2002 general election as SF candidate for Dublin West, securing 8% of the first preference votes (2,404) and finished seventh in a field of nine candidates.

She had been appointed to SF’s ard comhairle (executive council) in 2001 and in 2005 succeeded Mitchel McLaughlin as party chair. In 2009 she replaced West Tyrone MP Pat Doherty as the party’s vice-president.

She became Sinn Fein’s first MEP when elected to represent Dublin in 2004.

In 2011 she was elected to the Dail.