Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has returned to work after having undergone major surgery in late June.
She has spoken to the media about the “serious” medical surgery required, involving the removal of her womb and ovaries, as well as tumours. She said she has made a “full recovery” and returned to political duties.
“You can’t go through that kind of procedure and not reflect on your sense of yourself as a woman, mother and also the fact of getting a bit older,” she said on Ireland AM.
She labelled herself as “extremely lucky” and said she is now fully recovered following the keyhole surgery, and thanked Dublin’s Rotunda Hospital staff for the “outstanding” care she received.
The 54-year-old joined party colleagues at a think-in event in Dublin on Friday. She said she agrees with the Taoiseach that Ireland is on a ‘path to unity’ but that planning for Irish unification should be “at the heart of government”.
It comes after Leo Varadkar said he believes he will see a united Ireland within his lifetime.
The comments last week had sparked criticism among unionists and British officials. British Direct Ruler Chris Heaton-Harris suggested the comments, as well as a need to consider alternatives for the restoration of power-sharing, as “unhelpful”. Mr Varadkar stood by the comments, saying Ireland has been “extraordinarily helpful to the British government”.
Ms McDonald welcomed the comments, but challenged the Taoiseach to take action on the issue.
“As we speak there are relationships north-south, across departmental and government, across a wide swathe of areas.. that need to be put on a much more robust footing,” she said at her party’s think-in event in Dublin.
“The preparation for Irish unity can’t just be syphoned off or left in a silo of government. It needs to be planned at the heart of government... we need processes and preparation that are inclusive, respectful, we need a process that’s democratic, entirely peaceful, and all of that requires active planning. You can’t wish that into existence. You have to roll up your sleeves and get the work done.”
Ms McDonald also criticised Fianna Fail and Fine Gael’s record in government, particularly in respect of housing provision, and said that it would be a ‘red line’ for the party to hold that Ministry in any future coalition government.
“Sinn Féin will fix this housing crisis, we’ll deliver the biggest affordable and social housing building programme this state has ever seen,” she said.
“We will leave no stone unturned in tackling this crisis. And if I’m given the honour after the next election to lead government and become Taoiseach I will make housing the number one priority.
“There is so much promise, so much greatness and potential in our people and in our country and I believe with all my heart that our best days are ahead of us.
“I’ve never felt more hopeful and more committed to delivering a better, fairer and stronger Ireland and a united Ireland.”
She also addressed reporters at the start of her party’s event about the forthcoming election, due by March 2025 at the latest.
“We have had a ringside seat now for government failure since the last general election. They told us that they had heard the people, that the housing crisis couldn’t continue,” she said.
“What do we have? A continuing crisis. I spoke to one young mother in my own community, she has two lovely children. She’s waiting to be housed. She was told her position on the list and she was informed that it could take 10 years for her to be housed – her children will be grown. That’s not acceptable. That’s absolutely not acceptable.”
Ms McDonald said the countdown to the election had begun.
“I’ve heard very clearly the appeals of people urging us in Sinn Féin to be ready for the next election, urging us to have the number of candidates needed,” she said.
“So, to them I say, make no mistake, Sinn Féin will be ready. We are now on an election footing and our focus will be on maximising our vote and electing enough Sinn Féin TDs to lead government, a truly new government.”
She said the very best outcome of that election is a new government without Fianna Fail or Fine Gael for the first time in 100 years.
“I hope that people back that vision. However, friends, we’re not presumptuous. The outcome of the next general election is far from decided and we know that we have a lot of hard work to do between now and then.”
Ms McDonald said housing would be the “defining issue” of the election.
“Sinn Féin in government will end the housing crisis,” she said. “A Sinn Féin-led government will build the homes that our people need.
“We will deliver the biggest affordable and social housing programme that this state has ever seen. That is the level of action needed to match the scale of the challenge we face.
“If the people give us the opportunity to lead, Sinn Féin will make housing the number one priority of a new government – not only in words, but in actions, not only in actions, but in results.”
On her recent surgery, Ms McDonald said she was in “great health”.
“As Mark Twain said, rumours of my demise are greatly exaggerated,” she said. “I’m back and I’m sure the lads will be thrilled out of their minds to have me back.”