Michael Keating Dake examines the rise of the Sinn Féin Leader, exploring the changing role of women in Irish politics North and South of the border.
Over the last two decades, few political personalities have been able to provoke as much media trepidation and public fascination as Mary Lou McDonald. The South Dublin-born TD had her Republican political début in 1998, having briefly been a member of Fianna Fáil. She would later defect to Sinn Féin, citing disagreements with the former party on social policy and issues relating to Northern Ireland.
A dazzling (if not meteoric) rise through partisan ranks saw McDonald elected to the European Parliament. McDonald was later elected to Dáil Éireann in 2011, rapidly accruing prominent spokesperson roles on the party's front bench. Throughout this period, she gained notoriety for her widely publicised confrontations with the front bench of the Labour-Fine Gael coalition government. McDonald drew both admiration and scorn for her assertive opposition to the austerity policies of the coalition.
McDonald drew both admiration and scorn for her assertive opposition to the austerity policies of the coalition.
McDonald would later succeed Gerry Adams as party leader, a volte face widely perceived as a departure from Sinn Féin's violent past in the North of Ireland. Mary Lou currently stands at the helm of the party, alongside Michelle O'Neill, her Northern counterpart. The two women face both challenges and opportunities, but may yet have the fortitude to mobilise cross-border and cross-community support for their movement. With Sinn Féin currently capitalising on the current Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil-Greens coalitions housing policy blusters, it is probable that McDonald could become Ireland's first ever female Taoiseach, and the first from a centre-left party.
With Sinn Féin currently capitalising on the current Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil-Greens coalitions housing policy blusters, it is probable that McDonald could become Ireland's first ever female Taoiseach, and the first from a centre-left party.
The prospect of a Sinn Féin government led by McDonald becomes ever more tangible, though not by any means guaranteed. In order to ensure electoral viability, it would have to consider entering into coalition with other left-wing opposition parties. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil continue to enjoy robust support among their traditional voter bases, however, despite recent blows to public confidence (e.g., the November Dublin riots, among other heavily publicised criminal incidents in the nation's capital).
The Party leader was recently quoted in the Irish Examiner to have criticised the Government for implementing "sweetheart financial arrangements" for culture funds, accusing the coalition of enabling these controversial funds to pay "no capital gains tax and not a single red cent on their obscene rental incomes." With housing policy anticipated to form a crucial strategic element of the upcoming General Election, one expect to hear McDonald participate in many fierce and compelling debates in the months ahead.