In an interview for former BBC Political Editor Nick Robinson’s Political Thinking podcast, the deputy First Minister took exception to questions about how Sinn Féin operates.
Mr Robinson put it to her that the party was “very centralised”, highlighting that when she was made northern leader there was no election and when she was challenged for the position by John O’Dowd 18 months ago – itself an unprecedented development – there were no public debates or media interviews by the candidates.
He put it to her: “You operate still like an offshoot of the IRA from 30 years ago, rather than as an open democratic political party that listens to its grassroots”.
The PSNI and the Garda have said that the IRA Army Council continues to exist and works to support Sinn Féin politically.
Ms O’Neill said that was “a very lazy narrative” and added: “This nonsense of ‘let’s wait for Sinn Féin to transition into a real political party’ is an absolute nonsense”.
Pressed on the absence of any hustings when she was challenged for the leadership, Ms O’Neill said: “We are not there for entertainment for the public...the debate should be internal.”
She said it was right that the membership of Sinn Féin decides on its direction and that “we probably operate in a far more open way than most political parties in that we have an ard chairle that’s elected by the membership of the party every year and it’s that body that actually decides the rules that govern the party.
“So I just think it’s a lazy debate, to be honest, and I also think it’s a misogynistic debate, I’m going to add, in terms of my – our – own leadership because I hear this thing about pockets and coming from the IRA and all these things that are constantly thrown up. The fact is that Sinn Féin are probably more democratic internally than any other organisation that I would certainly know the workings of.”
When asked if she genuinely felt that she suffered misogyny, Ms O’Neill said: “Absolutely. Absolutely. All day long.”
She said that one of the first images of her on social media after she was appointed northern leader was of her in Gerry Adams’ pocket, adding: “That’s one of the most misogynistic image that anybody could decide to [produce]”.
In January 2017, at the height of the RHI scandal, Arlene Foster claimed that many of the calls for her to stand down were motivated by misogyny.
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