Mary Lou McDonald: ‘Fianna Fáil is Sinn Féin lite’

Partition of Ireland is the ‘elephant in the room’, ardfheis in Dublin hears

Sinn Fein deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald speaks at the  party’s ardfheis at the Convention Centre in Dublin. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne

Sinn Fein deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald speaks at the party’s ardfheis at the Convention Centre in Dublin. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne

 

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald has described Fianna Fáil as “Sinn Féin lite” and accused the party of “borrowing our policies”.

Challenging Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, she said that “now that you have, we will hold you to that promise. Now we will hold you to that commitment. So scrap the water charges.”

Speaking at her party’s ardfheis in Dublin, she accused Fine Gael and Fianna Fail of “leaving the Dáil in cold storage” and said they had an instinct “to suppress the political alternative that is growing in this State.

“But they cannot forever hold back the tide of political change,” she siad.

Fianna Fáil was never serious in its manifesto to abolish the water charges, she said, although the party’s manifesto pledge was to suspend water charges for the next Dáil term.

This was “an attempt at Sinn Féin lite”, she claimed.

‘Scarlet’

“We in Sinn Féin are only scarlet by the compliment they have paid to us by borrowing our policies,” she said to sustained applause at the Convention Centre in Dublin.

“Now that you have, we will hold you to that promise,” she said. “Now we will hold you to that commitment. So scrap the water charges.”

In a speech that received a standing ovation, Ms McDonald also described partition as the “elephant in the room”.

She said the republic envisaged by James Connolly and Patrick Pearse “doesn’t end at Newry. The North is not a foreign land.”

She said the ending of partition would require courage, respect and truth. “Republicans are up for that challenge,” she said as she pledged a commitment to a border poll.

Marriage equality

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness called for marriage equality to be extended to Northern Ireland, in the wake of the DUP’s veto.

He said Sinn Féin would “face down” sectarianism, bigotry and homophobia. “We need to see equality and the immediate extension of marriage equality to the every part of the island,” he said.

Mr McGuinness e described the recent criminalisation of a young woman in the North in an abortion tablets case as “absolutely wrong”.

He said he would caution against anyone using medication access on the internet, women facing difficult personal circumstances as a result of pregnancies, must be treated with compassion and sympathy”.

He said the law in the North “must change to allow termination in the very traumatic circumstances of fatal foetal abnormalities and sexual crimes”.

The party had gained nine new TDs and he was “particularly proud” that five of them are dedicated, articulate women activists.

“As a party we have a responsibility to promote gender equality, but gender equality is becoming a reality because we have these determined, energetic committed women coming forward,” he said.

He said half a million people had put their faith in Sinn Féin by voting for the party. He said they were putting their faith in the party’s democratic project to promote an agreed Ireland, and and Ireland of equals.

The Northern Assembly elections next month presented an opportunity for a new approach, building on the fresh start agreement to more effective government and to move beyond the politics of crisis and instability.

Death squads

A huge issue was dealing with the legacy of the past, he said. The mechanisms and structures for dealing with the past have been effectively agreed. The only blockage is the British government’s veto on the release of information about the “policies of the British state and its agents”.

The British government “is determined to conceal its role in the conflict and the actions of its agents and their proxies on the loyalist death squads”.

He also hit out at his opponents in Stormont. “The Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP still can’t tell the people whether they want to be in government or opposition” but he said Sinn Féin “will be in the executive”.

Financial hardship

The party’s finance spokesman Pearse Doherty said there were people behind all the statistics of homelessness, hospital waiting lists and those in financial hardship.

The old saying was “it’s the economy, stupid”, but he said now “it’s society,” stupid”.

Northern Assembly candidate for East Antrim Oliver McMullan said “the Wild Atlantic Way should not stop at the border but should include the Giant’s Causeway and the Glens of Antrim.

Fermanagh South Tyrone candidate Michelle Gildernew, highlighting her commitment to end partition, said one million people lived along the Border, facing huge problems of dealing with two administrations.

These included people who live on one side of the Border but work on the other, children being unable to access automatically the nearest school and women suffering domestic violence who could not access the nearest emergency shelters and services.

They also included “farmers experiencing the ridiculous bureaucracy of two administrations because of a line in the map”.