Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald is set to be named the party’s next leader as soon as January 19 after party officials announced a two-week process for interested candidates to put their name forward to replace current leader Gerry Adams.
No formal changing of leader will take place until a special ard fhéis at the RDS in Dublin on February 10. However, to date, Ms McDonald, currently a TD for Dublin Central, is the only potential candidate to express an interest in replacing Mr Adams, 69, with all other possible alternatives saying that they do not want to become the next leader of Sinn Féin.
If, as expected, Ms McDonald, 48, puts her name forward without any other candidate seeking nomination, she will become the de facto next leader of Sinn Féin on Friday week, when it will be confirmed that no leadership race will take place before the February 10 announcement.
The highly likely outcome has led to suggestions that Sinn Féin may instead open a second nomination process from January 19 up to the special ard fhéis in order for a replacement to be found to fill Ms McDonald’s current role as deputy leader.
However, while the position is likely to be appealing to high-profile figures such as party finance spokesman Pearse Doherty, housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin, health spokeswoman Louise O’Reilly, and foreign affairs spokesman David Cullinane, it remains unclear if any such deputy leadership race will take place.
Speaking to the Irish Examiner last night, a Sinn Féin spokesperson said no decision on whether to hold a deputy leadership race could take place until the leadership nominations close on January 19.
The spokesperson said that, should Ms McDonald be appointed at this point, with no rival candidacy put forward, a decision will be taken on whether to hold a deputy leadership race in time for the special ard fhéis, the already planned annual ard fhéis later in the year, or to simply appoint a new deputy leader.
Ms McDonald confirmed late last year that she will formally put her name forward to replace Louth TD Mr Adams as leader after he announced that he is stepping down after three decades in the role.
However, while it was initially anticipated that Sinn Féin would be open to a leadership race, no other potential candidate has expressed an interest in the position — effectively making Ms McDonald’s appointment a de facto coronation.
While her expected appointment as the next party leader has led to speculation over a further liberalisation of the party’s stance on abortion and an increased chances of a future coalition with Fianna Fáil, it may also lead to cross-border difficulties internal for the party.
This is because while Mr Adams has a long-held connection to republican grassroots in the North, Ms McDonald is believed to have less backing among northern Sinn Féin members.
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