Mary Lou McDonald: ‘A person full of contradictions’

by Alex Greaney
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Former Minister Shane Ross has turned author again with a new book investigating and detailing the background of Ireland’s Taoiseach in waiting.

Mary Lou McDonald never wore a balaclava. She never pulled a trigger or planted a bomb. She has never even been in prison – it is unlikely that she has ever incurred as much as a speeding fine. Yet she leads a party still full of hardened IRA veterans. 

In a first biography, Mary Lou McDonald: A Republican Riddle, her former fellow-Dáil member, Shane Ross explores the influences on Mary Lou’s early life and fully covers her unexpected, but hitherto unexplained political choices. He traces her strange transition from Ireland’s ruling Fianna Fáil party into Sinn Fein. 

Former Minister Shane Ross

Ross spoke to the Dublin Gazette about his journey in writing this book: “I wanted to write a biography of an Irish politician so I chose Mary Lou-McDonald because she is one of the most significant if not the most significant politicians in Ireland at the moment, because of her holding such influence both North and South. She is also likely to be the next Taoiseach. She is a fascinating person full of contradictions and good points and bad points. The really interesting thing about Mary Lou is that not a lot of people knew very much about her. Whereas she was scoring very high in the polls and yet people do not know very much about her background or how she came to be in the position she is now.” 

Mary Lou is the bookies’ favourite to be Ireland’s next Taoiseach. If successful, she will be the first woman to reach the office and the first Sinn Féin leader to enter government in the Republic of Ireland. 

Shane continued about his research for the book: “I asked Mary Lou McDonald if she would cooperate with me writing this book, but she said no, but that she wouldn’t stand in my way, which is understandable enough since Sinn Fein like to control their own message. “So, I did manage to talk to some members of her family, I talked to a large number of members of Fianna Fáil which she joined in 1998. Many of these were mystified by her transfer to Sinn Fein, none of them were quite clear why she did it. Some of them were very disappointed, they liked her. She moved to the Irish National Congress so I spoke to many that worked with her there. I then moved on to Sinn Fein initially they were very difficult to talk to, but over time, some people began to speak to me, off the record. 

“Among the most interesting things I discovered about her while researching was about her Fianna Fáil background. Her father was in and canvassed for Fianna Fáil. Her father was a very eccentric man also. Her family history in Tipperary is also quite interesting, in the book you find out that she had a great-uncle executed during the civil war for fighting for the Republican side. There appears to have been a large gap politically in her life, she was very much impacted by the Hunger Strikes in 1981, even though she was only 12 years old at the time. However, in college she appears to have been apolitical and didn’t join either Sinn Fein nor Fianna Fáil at this time.” 

When asked what kind of a leader Mary Lou McDonald would be for Ireland Shane said: “So far, she has acted like most opposition leaders do. She has very rarely in her life, if ever, been in a position of administrating anything. She is very strong in rhetoric, but she is untested. I think she is going to find that the promises that have been made by Sinn Fein are going to be very difficult to deliver on. She has over-promised and she will not be able to deliver on that for the next five or ten years. I think she is in such a strong position in the party that she has potential to make gestures towards the Unionists in Northern Ireland. She is in a strong position, but she is going to have to convince them that she is not a threat and that she is actually a friend to the Unionists.” 

Mary Lou McDonald: A Republican Riddle is available nationwide now

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