The new Sinn Fein leader, Mary Lou McDonald, has been stamping her authority on the party in the wake of being selected as the successor to Gerry Adams, who quit the post last week.
Ms McDonald has insisted she is not a “puppet” for her predecessor in her first media interviews since being officially elected. She also warned TDs or Senators who vote against party abortion policy will face disciplinary action.
After an unbroken 35 years in charge, Gerry Adams was last weekend officially replaced by Ms McDonald at a special party event in Dublin.
Her first statement as Sinn Fein leader proved controversial. Just minutes after being officially named leader, Ms McDonald was accused of referring to physical-force republicanism by saying “Up the Rebels.. Tiocfaidh ar la [our day will come]” at the end of her acceptance speech.
Ms McDonald said it was not about Sinn Fein’s past or the IRA, but because she found it “notoriously difficult to keep to a script”.
“At the ardfheis, I was setting out things that I believe passionately in - social progress, social justice, shared prosperity and a new Ireland. For me; to utter the words, tiocfaidh ar la, refers absolutely to that version of a new Ireland.”
“I know to some people that sounds like a harkening back to the past. For me it is not. I am a new leader of Sinn Fein. Tiocfaidh ar la is about the future. It’s about building a new Ireland and that is what my speech was about and the final line,” she said.
“If language carries a negative connotation, you reclaim it. The last place I want any of us to go to, is the past,” she added.
“I could have said any number of things but you need to understand that I am a republican leader, speaking in the republican tradition and to a republican audience and doing that in a way that is modern,” she said.
Hitting out at suggestions Mr Adams will remain the power behind the party organisation, Ms McDonald said her promotion from deputy leader to leader of Sinn Fein in an uncontested election is further proof the party is evolving from its roots, as she said “the IRA has gone away”.
The new Sinn Fein leader is open to coalition government with Fine Gael, despite describing Taoiseach Leo Varadkar this week as “smarmy”. She also said she is in favour of unrestricted access to abortion up to 12 weeks pregnancy.
Asked if pro-life Sinn Fein TDs Peadar Toibin and Carol Nolan will face disciplinary action if they vote against the potential new law, she said: “I respect everybody’s private conscience and private position, but I am saying this is a matter of public policy and as legislatures they do have to respect and uphold the [party policy] vote. And if they don’t, we have to deal with that.”
Ms McDonald also denied there is a problem with bullying in the party after a furious row erupted between the party’s head office and a councillor who quit last week in Dublin North West. The party has lost around 15 public representatives in the 26 Counties amid a long-standing crisis over internal organisation and management.
During her first speech as leader, Ms McDonald made no reference to the issue, but said that building the party “will mean changes in how we operate”. She added: “We must be open, flexible and enthusiastic in creating space for newer members and for the sharing of new ideas”.