Mary Lou McDonald: A Republican Riddle by Shane Ross - review by Malachi O’Doherty

Malachi O’Doherty

Up the (Peaceful) Rebels

Mary Lou McDonald: A Republican Riddle


Atlantic Books 416pp £16.99

The leader of Sinn Féin since 2018, Mary Lou McDonald has achieved for the party a respectability in Irish politics that it never had before. She might conceivably be the next Taoiseach or the powerbroker with whom other parties will have to negotiate a coalition if they want a share of government in Dublin.

This is a prospect that was never in view for Gerry Adams, her predecessor. While Adams was one of the most successful leaders in recent Irish politics, heading Sinn Féin for more than three decades and bringing it into power-sharing government in Northern Ireland, for the party to grow in the Republic of Ireland he knew he had to hand over to somebody unlike him. Adams was believed by the security services to have been the top man in the IRA and was able to build huge support for Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland and in the border counties on the back of the credit given to him as a peacemaker. But that same association with the IRA tarnished him badly in the eyes of the southern electorate.

Adams wanted to find someone who was capable of retaining the support of former IRA members and sympathisers and who had the political skills and eloquence needed for the job, someone who was even better than him at refusing to give a straight answer to a straight question. Specifically,

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RLF - March