If McDonald moves SF in new direction, that will be welcome

Morning View
Morning View

Sinn Fein has a new president-elect after 34 with Gerry Adams at the helm.

Mary Lou McDonald was the only candidate to replace the veteran republican leader at a party meeting at Belfast on Saturday.

Ms McDonald responded to the news by paying tribute to Mr Adams, and then saying that Ireland was on the road to unity. Such a political outcome would be the best solution for everyone, “including our unionist brothers and sisters,” she said.

It should become apparent soon whether Ms McDonald is, as she says, someone with her “own shoes” to fill as opposed to a puppet of the IRA leadership.

The day when the Provisional leadership became too old to continue to control Sinn Fein was always going to come. The key questions were whether or not the party would die with them or, if not, whether or not a new generation of potentially violent republicans would replace them.

Ms McDonald has largely avoided the overt sectarianism or provocative comments of some of her colleagues.

It might well be that she moves the party in a genuinely new direction, and that will be welcome if so.

An early test of her leadership qualities and her political instincts will come at Stormont, now that Michelle O’Neill is set formally to be Ms McDonald’s number two.

If Sinn Fein becomes much more flexible, that will be a good thing and an indication it is engaging in normal politics.

But just because Mr Adams, who has always been deeply disliked across the wide spectrum of unionism, and for understandable reasons too, has gone does not mean that unionists should now give into Sinn Fein demands.

That party has engaged in political vandalism over the last year. Unless and until there is a clear jettisoning of its red lines, London must introduce direct rule and must also make clear that there will be no extra say for Irish ministers.