Profile: Mary Lou McDonald

Mary Lou McDonald has been at the helm of Sinn Fein since 2018 after she was heralded in as the party’s second female president.

The Dublin-born woman succeed Gerry Adams after 34 years, and she is in the midst of fighting her first general election as Sinn Fein president.

During her maiden speech as party leader, she said that while she will not fill the shoes of Mr Adams, “the news is that I brought my own”.

Born in the middle-class areas of Rathgar in May  1969, she is the daughter of Patrick McDonald and Joan.

She has three siblings, including brothers, Bernard and Patrick and sister, Joanne.

She was educated at the Catholic private fee-paying school Notre Dame des Missions school in Churchtown, and went on to study a Bachelors of English Literature at Trinity College Dublin.

She then studied for a Master’s degree in European Integration Studies at University College Limerick as well as studying at Dublin College University (DCU).

Her first links to politics was not with Sinn Fein but as a researcher and consultant at the Institute of International and European Affairs, a thinktank run by Labour TD Brendan Halligan.

In the late 1990s, she joined the Irish National Congress and Fianna Fail, before switching to Sinn Fein in 2002 when she ran as a candidate in Dublin West – but failed to get elected after polling 8.02% of first preference votes.

Two years later, she made party history after becoming Sinn Fein’s first MEP and again ran as a candidate in the 2007 general election in Dublin Central but was unsuccessful in winning a seat in the Dail.

She became vice-president of Sinn Fein in 2009 and in her third attempt at the general election, she won a seat in 2011 in the Dublin Central constituency – a seat she continues to fight for.

She has been married to Martin Lanigan for 24 years and they have two teenage children, Gearoid and Iseult. The family home is in Cabra, north Dublin.

After suffering a bruising defeat in the 2018 presidential election and in last year’s council and European parliamentary elections, Sinn Fein had braced itself for a tough general election campaign.

After the defeat, some people questioned Ms McDonald’s leadership, however she said at the time that her party had “listened and learned” from the election losses and would hope to win more seats in the Dail.

No one predicted the Sinn Fein surge, least of all those in the party and this is reflected in the decision to field 42 candidates, far short of the 80 seats needed to form a government.

As the opinion polls reported a huge rise in Mary Lou’s approval rating and in support for Sinn Fein, she fast became one of the main voices of the general election.

She has faced criticism, however, over how she handled the controversy of murdered Co Armagh man Paul Quinn.

It emerged that her colleague and Stormont’s Finance Minister Conor Murphy said that Mr Quinn was involved in “criminality” shortly after his murder in 2007.

She told RTE Prime Time debate last week that Mr Murphy withdrew the comments and was going to apologise to the Quinn family.

The leader, who has used the election to focus on bread-and-butter issues, is undoubtedly preparing herself to be at the centre of the media over the coming days.

She has been hailed as the woman who will shake up Ireland’s political topography with her party’s radical tax plans and housing polices.

The breakthrough in Sinn Fein’s popularity may give Ms McDonald the boost she needs to take her party to the fore of Irish politics, and possibly into government.

If predictions are correct, both Storm Ciara and Mary Lou McDonald will cause huge changes to the landscape.

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