Mary Lou McDonald says she will eventually be taoiseach

‘I like her’: Sinn Féin leader tells podcast she admires DUP leader Arlene Foster

Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald at Leinster House. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald at Leinster House. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Mary Lou McDonald has predicted she will eventually become taoiseach, insisting Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil can only delay Sinn Féin’s journey to power.

The party president said the time was right for a woman to lead an Irish government.

Ms McDonald has also revealed her admiration for Northern Ireland First Minister and DUP leader Arlene Foster, describing her as someone she likes.

The Sinn Féin leader made the comments in a wide-ranging interview for Human Nature, a new podcast by Northern Ireland journalist Rodney Edwards.

Asked whether she thought she will ever become taoiseach, Ms McDonald said: “Yes, I do actually, and I don’t say that in a vain way, I’m not trying to pat myself on the back.

I don’t say that anybody should assume the role of taoiseach simply because they’re a woman, that’s not the point I’m making

“I think the time is right now for a woman to lead government here. Obviously, we have broken that glass ceiling in the North, and I think similarly it’s time here in the South.

Mary Lou McDonald: “I believe in reaching out,” she said. “I believe in standing my ground too.” Photograph Nick Bradshaw
Mary Lou McDonald upon her ascendancy to the role of president of Sinn Féin in early 2018, following the departure of Gerry Adams. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw

“I don’t say that anybody should assume the role of taoiseach simply because they’re a woman, that’s not the point I’m making, but I think it’s very important for society in general, but for women and girls in particular, that we prove without any fear of contradiction that women can occupy the most senior roles in public life, I think that matters.

‘Mood for change’

“And then, maybe more importantly, down here there’s a real palpable mood for change, like I’ve never seen before, and a real understanding that your political choice doesn’t have to be a binary choice between Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael and whose turn is it now – that there is actually a different way of doing politics, that different forms of government are possible.”

On the prospect of a Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil-Green Party coalition government being formed, Ms McDonald accused the two main parties of “trying to cobble something together to keep us out”.

She added: “They may succeed for now, but the truth is that even though the establishment might frustrate or slow down change, they may delay things, but they’re not going to stop change.”

Sinn Féin won the popular vote in February’s election and emerged with 37 seats – just one behind Fianna Fáil.

But the party’s efforts to form a left-wing coalition failed due to an inability to secure enough numbers to reach the 80 seats required for a Dáil majority.

‘I like her’

In the interview, Ms McDonald talks at length about her upbringing and background, including the impact her parents’ separation had on her formative years.

I think Leo’s smart, you know; I think he’s got a good brain. I don’t like his politics

Asked for her view of another female leader – the DUP’s Mrs Foster – Ms McDonald said: “I like the fact that she stands up for herself, I actually like that.

“I find Arlene a really, really interesting character. I like her.

“She’s a leader in political life and I know as a woman, you know, you earn your place, let me put it to you that way.

Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald launching her party’s General Election 2020 Manifesto in the Temple Bar Gallery and Studios. Photograph: Alan Betson
Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald launching her party’s General Election 2020 manifesto in the Temple Bar Gallery and Studios. File photograph: Alan Betson

“So, I respect that immensely. She’s a mother of children, so she faces all of the issues that ... no more than myself, so I like all of those things about her actually. I like that she’s from Fermanagh, and that she’s very connected with her place and very proud of where she comes from. I like that.”

Asked what she liked about Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, she said he embodied many positive things, noting the fact he was an openly gay premier who is mixed race.

“I like the fact that he has achieved as a person and he’s not just a category, he’s a human being,” she said.

‘A good brain’

“I think Leo’s smart, you know; I think he’s got a good brain. I don’t like his politics.”

Ms McDonald also spoke about her recent experience contracting Covid-19, describing it as “distressing”.

“I was really quite sick, although I was still on the mild end of the experience, but I was quite sick,” she said.

“I found it distressing that the virus had gotten into my house, because all of a sudden, you know, what had started as a story in China, then became grief and heartbreak in Northern Italy, poor Italy. And then all of a sudden, it’s in your neighbourhood, and then it’s in your home, and that was just distressing.”–PA