McDonald to stress need to modernise in first speech as Sinn Féin leader

End of an era as Mary Lou McDonald to formally succeed Gerry Adams as president

 Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald will formall succeed Gerry Adams. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald will formall succeed Gerry Adams. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

Mary Lou McDonald’s first speech as new Sinn Féin leader is expected to emphasise the need to modernise the party and take a more progressive stance on abortion laws.

Ms McDonald will formally succeed Gerry Adams as party president at a special Ard Fheis in the RDS today, expected to be attended by as many as 4,000 members.

The Dublin Central TD has restricted her public appearances in the run-up to the conference and the contents of her speech have been kept under strict wraps by party officials.

Broadcast organisations have been told that interviews conducted with her in advance of the conference can not be transmitted until after her speech.

The party said on Friday night she will lay out her vision for the party in her maiden speech.

It is also expected she will set out ambitious targets for modernising and growing the party.

One of the immediate issues affecting her leadership is dealing with the internal conflicts and divisions that has seen more than 20 councillors leave the party amid some claims of bullying, and rows over selections and expenses.

Medium term

It is expected her plans to grow the party will be for the medium term. The party has privately acknowledged it will have difficulty making significant electoral advances in the next general election, although strategists are hopeful her leadership will broaden the appeal of the party and attract more middle class voters.

She will layout a vision for a united and prosperous Ireland, a fundamental tenet for the party from which Ms McDonald has never departed.

“The topic of reconciliation is expected to be an important topic with Ms McDonald keen to continue the work of Martin McGuinness in advancing healing and the work of equality,” said an official.

The repeal of the Eighth Amendment will also be addressed. McDonald will emphasise that Sinn Féin will campaign enthusiastically for repeal, the party said.

The party’s official position is to support repealing the amendment but it does not go so far as accepting the recommendations of the all-party Oireachtas committee that abortion should be available on request up to a period of 12 weeks.

Ms McDonald will argue that the party should adopt the report, the recommendations of which have already been accepted by the leaders of the two largest parties, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar of Fine Gael and Micheál Martin of Fianna Fáil.

New leader

The new leader will update the Ard Fheis on the Sinn Féin approach to the negotiations to restore the institutions in the North, which as of last night, looked like they might be moving closer to resolution. Ms McDonald has been taking part in the talks along with outgoing party president Gerry Adams, who spent his last working day as leader involved in the talks.

The Ard Fheis will open at 1pm with an address from Dublin MEP Lynn Boylan, followed by finance spokesman Pearse Doherty. The formal election of deputy leader Michelle O’Neill will then take place, followed by the election of the president. Ms O’Neill will also address the convention.