McDonald says SF meetings not ‘an affront to democracy’
Sinn Féin leader criticises Varadkar’s comments and says Garda aware of threats made
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald: “I think it’s much healthier to involve people, to report back to them, to take people’s questions, to listen to them, to listen to people’s ideas.” Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has said the idea that public meetings held by her party are “an affront to democracy” is “ridiculous”.
An estimated 700 people attended a Sinn Féin meeting on Monday evening in the Rochestown Park Hotel, Cork, with another meeting due to take place in Dublin’s Liberty Hall on Tuesday. Others will be held at venues across the country in the coming weeks.
Other parties have criticised Sinn Féin holding the meetings, with Taoiseach and Fine Gael Leo Varadkar saying it was an example of Sinn Féin’s “campaign of intimidation and bullying”. Fianna Fáil TD Darragh O’Brien said the meeting was “right out of the Trump playbook”.
Speaking to reporters before the meeting, Ms McDonald said Mr Varadkar’s “comments were completely over the top”, and she accused the Taoiseach of “hysterical overreaction”.
“It is obvious that the political establishment are struggling with the result of the election.
“I think for any reasonable or sensible person, the suggestion that holding public meetings is somehow an affront to democracy is just ridiculous.
“You see, I don’t think it is wise that the election happens, people cast their vote and politicians disappear behind high walls and have discussions and leave people out.
“I think it’s much healthier to involve people, to report back to them, to take people’s questions, to listen to them, to listen to people’s ideas.”
Ms McDonald also said An Garda Síochána was aware of threats made against her. Ms McDonald confirmed the threats in response to questions from reporters but did not elaborate. Michelle O’Neill recently said she and Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly had been advised by the PSNI that dissident republicans were threatening to attack them both.
The Cork meeting, which lasted for an hour and a half, was addressed by Ms McDonald, and was followed by a question-and-answer session with the party leader, housing spokesman Eoin O’Broin, public expenditure spokesman David Cullinane and finance spokesman Pearse Doherty.
Questions were asked about issues such as childcare, housing, mental health, disability services, Irish unity and the eligibility age for the State pension.
Ms McDonald criticised Mr Varadkar but particularly Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin. She raised Mr Martin’s decision not to talk to Sinn Féin about government formation, saying: “I hope the leader of Fianna Fáil changes his position but he may not.”
Mr Varadkar and Mr Martin are due to hold exploratory talks on a potential future coalition between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, as well as other parties and Independents, on Tuesday.
Ms McDonald said that, in contrast to his decision not to talk to Sinn Féin, Mr Martin’s “eagerness to run into the arms of Fine Gael is lost on no one”. She said the “first item” between Mr Martin and Mr Varadkar “is who should be taoiseach”.
Mr Doherty told the meeting that more than 3,000 people had joined Sinn Féin in the last three weeks, adding that a further 4,000 new members were currently being processed.
Role of taoiseach
Also present at the meeting was Solidarity Cork North Central TD Mick Barry, who was one of eight non-Sinn Féin TDs who supported Ms McDonald’s candidacy for the taoiseach’s position in the Dáil last week.
The Dáil failed to elect a taoiseach at its first sitting since the general election. Ms McDonald won 45 votes, Mr Martin 41, Mr Varadkar 36 and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan 12.
Mr Barry also criticised the comments made by Mr Varadkar, saying the rights of free speech and the right to assemble in public gatherings were essential elements of democracy.
“The only intimidation and bullying I see, Leo Varadkar, is from a frightened establishment,” Mr Barry said. However, he once again told Ms McDonald he will withdraw his support for her if she attempts to form a government with Fianna Fáil.
“When I cast my vote I was casting my vote for a government that excluded the parties . . . of the vested interests,” he said, claiming these parties were Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. “You will not hold on to my support if you agree to do a deal with Fianna Fáil,” Mr Barry told Ms McDonald.