Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has insisted her party cannot be ignored by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, and must be considered a genuine potential coalition partner whenever the next election is held.
Ms McDonald made her pitch for power as she moved to assure left-wing voters that Sinn Féin is not turning into “some sell-out outfit” and will only enter coalition if it can be sure its policies can be introduced.
In a keynote speech on Saturday night, during her first ard fheis since replacing Gerry Adams as Sinn Féin leader earlier this year, Ms McDonald said that, after the next election, “Sinn Féin will talk to all political parties and Independents”.
Responding to a successful party motion on Friday evening allowing any such potential talks to take place, she said Sinn Féin cannot be “excluded” from negotiations, adding: “We are here, we are equal.”
Insisting it is “not for Leo Varadkar or Micheál Martin to decide whether or not we enter government”, as “that decision will be made in the first instance by the people”, Ms McDonald said Sinn Féin’s supporters must be supported in any post-election talks.
She littered her speech with references to sustainable growth and “shared” economic prosperity across social classes. She said: “To those who are impatient for equality and progress, I say this is your time. This is your home. This is your Ireland. Sinn Féin is your party. Let us seize the day. Together, let us build a new and united Ireland.”
Asked on RTÉ’s The Week in Politics about the repositioning of her party, Ms McDonald explained that she “very consciously and deliberately said we are looking for a progressive government” and dismissed those sceptical of the move as “the no-nay-never brigade”.
In a bid to calm concerns among its traditional support that Sinn Féin may be moving into centre-ground politics, she added that “it still comes down to the programme for government” and denied her party is going to “morph into some sell-out outfit”.
“Just to reassure views and to stop panic sweeping the nation, there will be no elopement [with Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil]. The question of government, for me, still comes down to the programme for government.
“For us to enter government, the first thing we need is a sufficient mandate, so I have a job to do as a political leader and a political party, to convince people that we are worth backing.
“And then the second piece is the programme for government, and that’s when all the parties and Independents enter into the frame.
“The bottom line has to be that we can house our people, that if you’re sick you can have medical care. So of course there are bottom lines, but the core of the issue is whether or not you can arrive at that programme for government.
“We will not morph into some sell-out outfit. But we’re not going to sit on the sidelines.”
While there is ongoing talk over the possibility of Sinn Féin entering power after the next election, it is widely suspected the party’s real focus is on the subsequent election after this vote.
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