McDonald: we need to convince unionists a united Ireland is best way forward

Mary Lou McDonald addresses Sinn Fein supporters during Saturday's meeting
Mary Lou McDonald addresses Sinn Fein supporters during Saturday's meeting

Sinn Fein’s president-elect Mary Lou McDonald has said that the party will aim to convince unionists that a united Ireland is the best way forward for everyone.

Ms McDonald was confirmed as the only candidate nominated to replace Gerry Adams as Sinn Fein leader at a party meeting in Belfast on Saturday.

Mary Lou McDonald arrives at Sinn Fein's ard comhairle at the Balmoral Hotel in Belfast on Saturday

Mary Lou McDonald arrives at Sinn Fein's ard comhairle at the Balmoral Hotel in Belfast on Saturday

Speaking at the meeting Ms McDonald said she believes her leadership will mark a defining chapter in the achievement of a united Ireland.

“I believe Irish unity is the best solution for all of our people, including our unionist brothers and sisters. I know we have a job to do to convince them of that, but I know we are more than fit for that task,” she said.

Ms McDonald added: “Some of you have said to me ‘you have very big shoes to fill’.

“Well, the truth is that no one will ever fill Gerry Adams’s shoes. The truth is, my friends, I won’t fill Gerry’s shoes. But the news is that I brought my own. So I will fill my shoes.

“I will walk in my shoes and we together over the coming years will walk a journey that is full of opportunities, full of challenges, but I believe which marks a defining chapter in our achievement of a united Ireland and the ending of partition.

“As Gerry has said, that’s not a pipe dream, that is the road we are on.”

Ms McDonald said that she grew up watching Gerry Adams on the television and had never expected that one day she would replace him as leader.

“Little was I to know at that time that I would come to know and work so closely with Gerry and the entire leadership and to have him as such a close friend.

“But I certainly never would have guessed that come February 10 2018 that I would be the boss of him,” she said.

Ms McDonald added that Sinn Fein is “probably the most exemplary party when it comes to girl power at this stage in Irish politics”.

Earlier Mr Adams told members that the party must devise strategies and win support for a referendum on Irish unity.

“And we need to campaign for this. We also need to win that referendum ... Don’t believe the naysayers and begrudgers ... who claim that a United Ireland is a pipe dream.

“It isn’t. It’s very real. It’s very achievable. We can do it,” he added.

Mr Adams announced in November that he was stepping down as Sinn Fein president after 34 years in the role.

A special party conference to ratify Ms McDonald as leader will be held on February 10.

Ms McDonald has been a TD for Dublin Central since 2011.

Before getting elected to the Dail (parliament) she was an MEP representing the Dublin constituency – becoming Sinn Fein’s first MEP in the Republic of Ireland in 2004.

Many party members have been tweeting their support for Ms McDonald.

Fiachra McGuinness, son of the late Martin McGuinness, tweeted a video message on Friday announcing that he was “proud and honoured” to endorse Ms McDonald.

He said his father was a “huge admirer of her ideas, dedication and commitment”, and that she was the “ideal candidate to lead Sinn Fein into the future”.

Meanwhile, Mr Adams has said that Sinn Fein wants to see an end to the year-long political stalemate at Stormont.

He described politics in Northern Ireland as “very polarised and very toxic”.

“Politics in this state are very polarised at this time and the atmosphere is very toxic. It is my view that this does not help anyone except a small minority of bigots,” he said.

Mr Adams added: “Separate development and negative divisions are not good for our community. People deserve better.”

Speaking at Sinn Fein’s ard comhairle (high council) on Saturday, the outgoing party leader said there will always be “political tension between unionism and republicanism”, but that it should be managed in a “responsible, respectful way”.

A fresh talks process aimed at restoring the power-sharing government at Stormont is due to begin on Wednesday.

The institutions collapsed 12 months ago following a row between former government partners Sinn Fein and the DUP over a botched green energy scheme.

Several rounds of talks aimed at ending the political stalemate ended without agreement.

Just days before the start of the new talks process, Mr Adams said there was “no merit” in disengaging from the conversations with unionists.

“It is not in the interests of the vast majority of citizens that political parties should retreat to our trenches and hunker down comfortably in the certainty of our respective positions,” he said.

“We have to challenge ourselves and our support base. We also have to challenge unionism.

“Whether the upcoming talks succeed or not in the short term, there is no merit in Sinn Fein disengaging from the conversations and dialogue with unionists and others that is necessary – in whatever format is appropriate in the time ahead.

“Standing still is not an option. We are agents for change and it is up to us to find the ways and means to create more of this positive change. That will benefit all sections of our people.”