Cianan Brennan: For Mary Lou McDonald, the watchword is 'change'

Cianan Brennan: For Mary Lou McDonald, the watchword is 'change'

For Mary Lou McDonald and the party she leads, the watchword is “change”.

At Sinn Fein’s first public engagements since last Saturday’s seismic election, Ms McDonald reiterated again and again what the result had meant to her — that the public wants such change with a “totally new Government”.

However, she also acknowledged that forming any sort of left-leaning coalition will be “very, very challenging given the numbers”.

Even should that mean Sinn Féin having to go into Government with Fianna Fáil, the onus would be on the latter party to sign up to govern as per the public’s wishes, she said.

Such a coalition between the two self-proclaimed republican parties looks further from reality than ever at present, with Fianna Fáil yesterday agreeing wholeheartedly that all options are on the table, except partnership in Government with Sinn Féin.

In her opening remarks to the first meeting of her old and new TDs at Buswell’s Hotel next to Leinster House yesterday morning, Ms McDonald rallied her new bumper-sized parliamentary party with a call of “my friends, we have work to do”.

She said: "Before Saturday’s election I said this election could shape life in Ireland for the next decade and could be seismic for the Irish political landscape. Well my friends, lo and behold, I think that assessment proved to be correct. Sinn Féin has won the election.”

She said that her party’s mandate involves invoking “solutions” to the problems in Irish society.

Our objective is a Government that builds homes, cuts rents and freezes them. We want to reduce the pension age to 65, and to stand up to the vulture funds and the insurance industry.

She said that advancing on Irish unity “is not just possible, but necessary at this time”.

She said it is the “duty” of the Irish Government to plan for the process leading up to a referendum on a united Ireland, but said that unionists “need not fear the debate and discussion about the future, because this needs to be an inclusive, engaging, and forward-looking debate”.

“We have a plan and the solutions and the team to deliver,” she said.

Later, addressing the media at her new TDs' official introduction to Dáil Eireann, Ms McDonald said that her focus is currently firmly on engagement with the parties that in her eyes “won the election” — they being her own party, the Social Democrats and the Green Party.

Nevertheless, she said, she had written to Micheál Martin seeking a meeting the previous evening, but had yet to receive a response.

She added that so far as she is concerned Mr Martin’s position of unwillingness to enter Government with Sinn Féin, is “untenable”.

“To say that he will not speak to us, to people who represent such a significant section of Irish opinion and citizens… anyone who followed the election can’t have missed the appetite for change, it was writ large,” she said.

Asked about the possibility now mooted that Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Greens might form a grand coalition without Sinn Féin, she said that “our analysis is that the best outcome is a totally new Government without Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, I accept that the numbers make that very, very difficult".

“The worst outcome would be five more years of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael together. I strongly believe that would be step backwards, and I absolutely know that that is not the Government that people voted for,” Ms McDonald added.

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