Sinn Féin ‘needed a shake-up’ in Derry, says Mary Lou McDonald

DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson to meet Taoiseach Micheál Martin in Dublin on Friday

Sinn Féin leader Mary-Lou McDonald talking to the media while on a visit to Derry on Thursday. Photograph: Sinn Féin/PA Wire

Sinn Féin leader Mary-Lou McDonald talking to the media while on a visit to Derry on Thursday. Photograph: Sinn Féin/PA Wire

 

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has defended changes to the party’s personnel in Derry during a visit to the city on Thursday, saying the party “needed a shake-up” in the Foyle constituency.

On Tuesday, two Derry Sinn Féin Assembly members - veteran republican and former IRA prisoner Martina Anderson and fellow MLA Karen Mullan - who had already announced they would not be standing in next May’s Stormont elections, said they would be stepping down from their posts in the coming weeks.

Ms McDonald was in Derry for a number of meetings ahead of the opening of nominations on Thursday evening to select candidates to represent Foyle in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

She acknowledged the process had been “challenging” but added she had “absolutely no doubt that we will make very significant progress in the time ahead”.

While the party has “work to do” in the Foyle constituency, she said she believed it would hold its two Assembly seats in next year’s elections.

Ms Anderson and Ms Mullan will step down from their posts before the beginning of the new Assembly term on September 13th.

Their previous announcement that they would not defend their seats at the next election, due in May, followed an internal party review into poor electoral performances in the constituency.

In 2019, Sinn Féin lost the Westminster seat to the SDLP, and earlier that year lost five seats and its position as the largest party on Derry City and Strabane District Council.

“A review was necessary, we all recognised that, change was needed, I think everybody recognised that,” said Ms McDonald.

“A review and change is challenging, that’s the nature of life and it’s the nature of politics, but I am absolutely certain and confident that we emerge from this stronger and that we emerge from this in a united fashion and we face all of the challenges that confront the people of Derry and of Foyle I hope with a new energy and a new commitment.”

Speaking to the media on Derry’s walls, Ms McDonald dismissed a suggestion that Ms Anderson and Ms Mullan - who were not present at the press conference - had snubbed her visit, and said Ms Anderson had earlier made her a cup of coffee.

“Martina and I, and Karen, are friends, we’re activists together and we work in common cause, and has it been a challenging period, yes it has, that’s evidently the case, but can we get past that, have we gotten past that? Yes, we have,” she said.

Asked about comments by the DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson that “Sinn Féin talk equality and respect and do the opposite” and “things need to change and soon”, Ms McDonald said that “on so many matters of equality Sinn Féin has been proven to be on the right side of the argument and I think Jeffrey might reflect on that”.

Meanwhile, Mr Donaldson is to hold discussions with the Taoiseach in Dublin on Friday in what will be his first meeting with Micheál Martin as DUP leader.

Speaking in advance of the visit, Mr Donaldson said it was “part of a series of engagements where I have challenged key stakeholders about the deep damage being caused to progress in Northern Ireland by the [Northern Ireland] protocol.

He said he intended to ask the Mr Martin to “recognise the flaws of the protocol and join with us in arguing in the corridors of power for change.”