Mary Lou McDonald: Sinn Féin ‘in transition’ as leadership battle looms

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald has admitted her party is in “transition” as the prospect of a leadership change on both sides of the border grows nearer due to the likely retirement of Martin McGuinness from frontline politics.

Mary Lou McDonald: Sinn Féin ‘in transition’ as leadership battle looms

Speaking to RTÉ Radio before today’s expected confirmation of a fresh election in the North, Ms McDonald said she is hopeful of a “seamless” change in leaders over the coming years.

Asked if the likely departure of Mr McGuinness as leader of Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland after his resignation as deputy first minister for health reasons last week triggered the collapse of the Stormont government, Ms McDonald stressed the Derry native would make a decision on his own future in his own time.

“First of all Martin has all our good wishes as I’m sure do Bernie and all the family. He’s not enjoying great health. He’ll make his own decision on his electoral future.

“We’re a party in transition and all of that will unfold in a way that is democratically sanctioned by Sinn Féin and in a way that is I hope seamless and productive.

“But for the now, the focus on this election [in Northern Ireland] is a united stance, standing up for power-sharing, for the executive against corruption and against the shenanigans we have seen in the last years,” she said.

The remark is likely to spark fresh questions over the future of both Mr McGuinness and long-time colleague Gerry Adams as the heads of the party north and south of the border.

Speculation over Mr McGuinness’s future has been caused by revelations over his serious health condition last week and clear deterioration in a short TV interview last Monday when he announced his resignation as deputy first minister.

However, questions over Mr Adams’ longevity have been repeatedly rumoured in recent months due to Sinn Féin’s desire to grow the party’s support base in the Republic, a policy which has proven difficult due to ongoing controversies surrounding senior republican’s past.

Last Thursday, Sinn Féin TD for Waterford David Cullinane name-checked several Sinn Féin figures in Northern Ireland — including Conor Murphy, Michelle O Neil, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir and Gerry Kelly — as potential replacements for Mr McGuinness in the province.

In the Republic, Ms McDonald and finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty have been suggested as potential future replacements for Mr Adams, with suggestions housing spokesperson Eoin O Broin could also be considered.

While there is no immediate likelihood of Mr Adams departing frontline politics, it is expected that Mr McGuinness will make clear his own intentions this week after British secretary to Northern Ireland James Brokenshire announces the dissolution of Stormont and a fresh election this afternoon.

Sinn Féin yesterday confirmed it will not put forward a candidate for the position of deputy first minister when the Stormont assembly returns today, forcing the election to take place.

At a meeting in The Felons Club in West Belfast which saw its three sitting MLAs selected to contest the constituency, activists were seen leaving with new posters to be used for the now inevitable campaign.

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