Sinn Fein's McDonnald slammed for speech praising Tyrone IRA Brigade terrorists
Sinn Fein leader-in-waiting Mary Lou McDonald came under fire last night as Troubles victims and political figures cast doubt on her ability to distance herself from the IRA and its terrorist past.
The criticism mounted as it was learned that the incoming Sinn Fein leader was a keynote speaker just four months ago at a commemoration honouring more than 50 of the IRA's notorious Tyrone Brigade killed during the Troubles.
Last night prominent victims campaigner Kenny Donaldson said: "Mary Lou McDonald's own fingers have never pulled a trigger nor detonated a bomb; however, her words and actions in response to those who did continues to have a chilling and deeply damaging impact upon the lives of those innocents who were so grievously harmed."
Mr Donaldson, who heads victims and survivors group the South East Fermanagh Foundation, said: "The Sinn Fein president in waiting has associated herself with a number of commemorative events to those within the republican movement, many of whom were serial killers who murdered their own neighbours because of sectarian and ethnic-motivated hatreds.
"This is certainly the case with a considerable number of those commemorated at the Strabane event where she acted as keynote speaker.
"Whether you're an actual terrorist, someone who romanticises or glorifies acts of terrorism or are someone who seeks to dilute the effects of terrorism through explaining it away as an unfortunate yet necessary outcome - you are the problem and not part of a better solution."
Ms McDonald was confirmed as the only candidate nominated to replace Gerry Adams as Sinn Fein leader at a party meeting in Belfast on Saturday.
At the weekend Ms McDonald said her party will aim to convince unionists that a united Ireland is the best way forward for everyone.
Speaking at the meeting, Ms McDonald said she believed her leadership would mark a defining chapter in the achievement of a united Ireland.
"I believe Irish unity is the best solution for all of our people, including our unionist brothers and sisters," she said.
"I know we have a job to do to convince them of that, but I know we are more than fit for that task." A special party conference to ratify Ms McDonald as leader will be held on February 10.
Former Irish Labour senator Mairia Cahill, a victim of IRA sex abuse, said Ms McDonald had been working to build her credibility among Sinn Fein hardliners in Northern Ireland - but in doing so she had damaged her appeal to voters in the South, who find northern republican militarism a turn-off.
"In any other party the election of two females, one of whom is politically formidable, would be a cause for celebration and seen as a new start," she said last night.
"The problem for Sinn Fein is that they don't have that new start: both Michelle O'Neill and Mary Lou McDonald have, over the past number of years, gone to great lengths to eulogise IRA volunteers and go to commemorations.
"Mary Lou comes from the leafy Dublin suburbs, a world apart from what people who grew up in west Belfast experienced. For her to defend a past that isn't hers - not only defend it, but laud it by attending a volunteer commemoration, is quite astonishing."
Ulster Unionist MLA Steve Aiken said: "Many people will be wondering just how Mary Lou McDonald expects to be credible as a fresh departure for Sinn Fein if she is still venerating the mass murderers of the IRA.
"It is disappointing but not entirely surprising."
Ms McDonald has been a TD for Dublin Central since 2011.
Before being elected to the Dail she was an MEP representing the Dublin constituency - becoming Sinn Fein's first MEP in the Republic in 2004.
She will take over the party reins from Mr Adams, who has been its president since 1983.