Sinn Fein’s new president ‘off on wrong foot’ with unionists as Mary Lou ends speech with IRA slogan
‘Stale rhetoric’ criticised
An Ulster Unionist has said Mary Lou McDonald missed an opportunity to reach out to his community when she ended her leadership acceptance speech with "Up the rebels" and "Tiocfaidh ar la".
Upper Bann MLA Doug Beattie said he was disappointed by the new Sinn Fein president's remarks at her party's special ard fheis in Dublin on Saturday.
TUV leader Jim Allister said the incident reinforced why the DUP should not return to government with Sinn Fein at Stormont.
Critics claimed that the remarks harked back to a "dark time" when the IRA campaign was in full swing.
Mr Beattie said: "There was an opportunity for Mary Lou McDonald to say something without going down that old, tired route of promoting those who have blighted our society for the past four decades.
"She missed that opportunity and that's a shame. She turned people off in a split-second. I find that very unfortunate."
However, Mr Beattie insisted that he wasn't writing off Ms McDonald on the basis of her closing ard fheis remarks.
"Everybody has the opportunity to rectify a situation. One speech doesn't make a policy or a future," he said.
"Ms McDonald has every opportunity in coming months and years to prove herself. But I would have to say that she hasn't got off to a great start."
Mr Allister said he wasn't in the slightest surprised by Ms McDonald's remarks. "They represent the real heart of Sinn Fein and are yet another reminder of why the DUP should not be facilitating these people into government," he said.
"In government, their purpose will be the same as it was at their ard fheis - namely to subvert and end Northern Ireland's position within the UK." At the gathering, Ms McDonald concluded her speech with "Up the rebels agus Tiocfaidh ar la" (our day will come).
There was a standing ovation from around 2,000 party members who had assembled in the RDS.
For unionists, the use of those two phrases overshadowed the parts of her speech that addressed the need for reconciliation and how Sinn Fein wanted to achieve a united Ireland with "graciousness and generosity".
Former UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said that given Ms McDonald had taken over the leadership unopposed and hadn't needed to reassure her base, it was "a missed opportunity to deliver change".
He maintained that the new Sinn Fein president spoke of fresh-thinking and bold ideas "but ended with the same, stale rhetoric". Unionism would "not be slow to identify the contradictions", he said.
"Now the speech is over, let's see what she has to offer in the coming week's talks in Belfast," he added.
Fianna Fail TD Darragh O'Brien described Ms McDonald's words as "ill-judged".
He said: "Comments like that really hark back to a very dark time in this island's history when many people were murdered by the Provisional IRA."
He said he would "like to see the end of those types of phrases".
Fine Gael Senator Kieran O'Donnell clashed on RTE radio with Sinn Fein TD Pearse Doherty over his leader's remarks. Mr O'Donnell claimed they had been "irresponsible" with talks in Northern Ireland at a "very delicate stage".
Mr Doherty denied that Ms McDonald's comments were odd and insisted that unionists knew full well that Sinn Fein was a republican party which wanted to achieve a united Ireland.
In a statement last night, responding to criticism of its new leader's use of language, Sinn Fein said: "Mary Lou McDonald has recognised the need for reconciliation and healing of the past, whilst respecting others' experience."
The party added that it was in the business of delivering change, which seemed to be a challenge to other parties.
Ms McDonald has maintained that she thinks republicans can do business with DUP leader Arlene Foster.
On becoming Sinn Fein leader on Saturday, she said: "I very much hope we get the institutions back up and running."
In her speech she recalled "all those who have struggled for Irish freedom in every generation. The women and men who stood for the republican cause through hard times, through times of war, through poverty and discrimination".
She added: "We are proud to walk in the pathway carved out by so many republican heroes - women and men. The rebel Irish who never bowed down, who never gave up."
But she stressed that it was a time for fresh thinking and bold ideas, adding "the war is long over".