The Big Interview: Sinn Fein, the IRA and me - Mary Lou McDonald
Mary Lou McDonald tells our sister publication, the Sunday Independent, that there was “every chance, every possibility” she would have joined the IRA, and reveals Prince Charles wrote to her after she fell ill with coronavirus.
There are two conflicting narratives around how Mary Louise McDonald of Orwell Road, Rathgar, south Dublin, ended up being leader of this island's most controversial political party.
The first, proffered by her critics, is that having come from a Fianna Fail family, she unsurprisingly joined that party in the mid-1990s. As a bright, articulate and well-educated young woman, her stock was high and Bertie Ahern's party was on the brink of three successive general election victories. But, recall some in Fianna Fail, she found her path to elected office blocked by the party's old guard in Dublin West. So she upped and joined Sinn Fein.
The other version, recounted by McDonald, is different, perhaps darker, but far more compelling. She vividly recalls the sadness in her house in the spring of 1981 as the hunger strikes in the Maze Prison unfolded, how tense her mother was, the national grief, the protests. Four days before she turned 12, on May 1, 1981, Bobby Sands died after 66 days on hunger strike. "It was the moment at which I realised there was something radically, radically wrong in the politics and the life of the Ireland in which I was growing up," McDonald reflected last week.
A cynic would ponder how such enlightenment could come so early in life and, even if it did, why it would take nearly 20 years before McDonald even considered joining the party that Sands represented.
But it's her story and she sat down to tell it in detail on Wednesday in Leinster House.
Hugh O'Connell: Why have you agreed to sit down with the Sunday Independent?
Mary Lou McDonald: Well, I don't think it's a secret that there have been tensions between the Sunday Independent and Sinn Fein for quite some time. I mean, the editorial line has been, to our way of thinking, quite hostile towards us. But like everything else in life, things move on - people move on, the world changes, politics changes. We came out of the last election having taken more votes than any other political party. We're now the largest political party on the island, we're a party that's preparing to enter into government.
I think the Sunday Independent has changed as well, as I observe it from the outside. And I think my first preference would always be to have open dialogue and cordial relations. The Sunday Independent is a big newspaper - so I think now is the right time for us to talk.
HOC: Do you think Gerry Adams would have done this?
MLMcD: I don't know, to be honest. Was he ever asked?
HOC: You mentioned before that there were people in the party who didn't want you to do this.
MLMcD: There'd be an anxiety for people who either read or don't read the Sunday Independent - that it has a very negative view that's sounded out consistently. Lots of people believe that very often the commentary was unfair.
HOC: Did you have to get clearance to do this interview?
MLMcD: No, absolutely not. Absolutely not.
In 1979, Mary Lou McDonald's parents, Patrick and Joan, separated.
"The Pope was coming that September," she recalls. "At that time - it sounds mad now - but this isn't something you talked about. For your parents to announce they'd separated, it was a big deal.
"It was almost like a big scandal because it was one of the great taboos. I mean, back in those days it was a time when that awful term 'broken families' was used, so I suppose you didn't advertise the fact that you came from a broken family."
Her mother raised her, her two brothers, Bernard and Patrick, and her sister Joanne. She is reluctant to talk about her relationship with her father. "We're very different and we're very similar, I suppose. So it's just one of those things, you know."
Asked if the relationship was - and remains - difficult with her father, she says: "Well, of course it was difficult. I mean your parents separate - of course that's difficult - and you're raised by your mother, so of course that's one of the consequences of people's parents separating. But I think that we managed it reasonably well.
"But my mam raised us, so of course that's different than if you grow up in a household where your parents don't separate and where you're all together."
It is not something she wishes to discuss further.
Privately educated at Notre Dame des Missions in Churchtown, McDonald studied English at Trinity, did an MA in European integration studies at the University of Limerick and went to DCU, where she abandoned a PhD in industrial relations.
She doesn't believe she grew up in privilege but acknowledges she had a privileged education. "I'm very well educated and it's amazing how sometimes those two things are confused. I've never been wealthy, I have no prospect to be wealthy and I have no ambition to be wealthy."
HOC: [The hunger strikes] radicalised a lot of people. If you had been older at the time, would you have joined the IRA?
MLMcD: I don't know, maybe. I certainly understand how it was that people volunteered to [join] the IRA - anybody looking at the circumstances from partition onwards, the nature of the northern state, everything that happened, how young people in particular took the fight to the British state. And, let's face it, there have been previous chapters where previous generations of young people in a different context, but with the same impulse, had equally volunteered to the IRA and taken on that fight.
HOC: You must have thought about it, in all the years since then?
MLMcD: Not hugely - you live the life that you live.
HOC: I am putting it to you now. What do you think?
MLMcD: Yeah, I think there'd be every chance, every possibility. I grew up in Dublin so the Troubles and the conflict were the background noise of my generation.
When we were growing up, we were at a distance from it in one sense […] but it was the framing narrative of news broadcasts, night in, night out, the political debate. So growing up in Belfast, growing up in Derry, growing up in Tyrone - they weren't at a distance, they were right in the middle of the conflict. But you can only live the life that you have lived and I don't think you can second guess yourself on what you might and what you might not have done. What doesn't change is the politics that I have and my beliefs in terms of Irish freedom.
HOC: A lot of bad things happened in the 1980s, perpetrated by the IRA. You were 16 when the Enniskillen bomb happened, you were 24 when the Warrington bombing happened.
HOC: How did that impact on your thinking about republicanism and what the IRA were doing at that time?
MLMcD: I just think that the whole cycle of armed actions and of violence just became debilitating for everybody.
HOC: What did you think at the time about those acts?
MLMcD: I remember Gordon Wilson [whose daughter was killed at Enniskillen], I remember him recounting how his daughter had said goodbye to him. Anybody seeing that, it was absolutely heartbreaking, it was absolutely devastating.
You don't see suffering like that and not feel devastated for the people who are hurt - and all of that happened in a political context. You cite two horrific incidents - and they happened all round. That's the thing when conflict takes a grip, it takes on almost a life of its own and it's very, very hard to stop that cycle of violence.
HOC: Did you think the IRA were wrong to do that? Did you think, 'what an appalling act by a group of terrorists?'
MLMcD: I thought all of the acts of violence were awful.
HOC: Did you think they were terrorist acts?
MLMcD: Back then - and now - I don't regard that people who fought for Irish freedom were terrorists. I do accept that IRA actions hurt and killed a great many people. I also know that actions of state forces and actors and loyalist paramilitaries similarly caused grief and loss. For me, the important piece of this is not to label any people as 'terrorists' but to accept that there was a political context, there was a reason.
HOC: Did you see a political context back then?
MLMcD: Oh, absolutely. And I think that any thoughtful person would have understood. You couldn't have understood what was happening 100 miles up the road unless you understood the political context.
HOC: An awful lot of people back then - and now - would say that was terrorism.
MLMcD: And others would say the terrorists were those who went onto the streets of Derry, and went into Ballymurphy and those who colluded with loyalist death squads to kill people. That argument is circular and frankly gets us nowhere. The important piece, to my way of thinking, is that you have to understand the 'why' of a conflict if you're going to contribute to its resolution.
McDONALD'S political life began in Fianna Fail, sometime around 1996 when she joined a branch in Dublin West.
"Fianna Fail is very comfortable for me, because of my family's sort of political tradition - in a typical way, where Irish families split along the Civil War lines. My family were anti-treaty and that's the origins of Fianna Fail."
A former Fianna Fail politician, who knew McDonald at the time, said: "She was always a star, she was highly intelligent and highly educated. My observation was there was no room for her in Fianna Fail. She was in the same constituency as Brian Lenihan Jr. There was no room for her there."
McDonald denies this, says she never met or spoke to Bertie Ahern when she was in Fianna Fail, nor does she believe she was being groomed to run for election. "If I was, that's news to me."
Her interest in the North was evident from her involvement in the Irish National Congress (INC), of which she was chair, at around the same time. The organisation led a protest against an Orange Order plaque being erected on Dawson Street and some INC members were against the Good Friday Agreement.
McDonald says she was not one of them, but did harbour concerns at the time about the removal of Articles 2 and 3 - the State's territorial claim to the North - from the Constitution.
"I suppose at the end of the day, people figured that the negotiators who had gone in, who had thrashed all of this out in all of its aspects, had landed on the best available deal at the time," she says now.
The best available deal was sold to hardline republicans by Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness - a feat McDonald says she viewed as "incredible" at the time. She joined Sinn Fein not long after that.
Her middle-class background was not to everyone's liking. In 2004, when she was picked to run for Europe, one disgruntled party activist, speaking to the Sunday Independent, bemoaned the party picking "a spanking new middle-class candidate over an experienced, long-serving working-class candidate".
Not that she cared. Then, or now. "Obviously I am a middle-class woman. I am who I am. How I was raised and everything, yeah absolutely. It's not a big thing for me but, yes, I was amused at times, when I initially came on the scene, that I was written up as very posh - like, the poshest human being that ever lived in Ireland. I used to throw my eyes to heaven and say 'Oh, for God's sake'."
HOC: You were a favourite of Gerry Adams, weren't you?
MLMcD: Yeah, I probably was. Yeah.
HOC: How did that make you feel?
MLMcD: It was grand, yeah… It's nice to be affirmed, it's great to be given the chance, it's great to be given opportunities. It's great, then, to go out and do the best that you can with the opportunities that you have, to be part of a team, work together. [But] there was lots of other people coming up as well.
HOC: You were the party's MEP candidate in Dublin. You were a big deal.
MLMcD: I was the first Sinn Fein MEP, so that was a little bit of history at the time. That was a big deal, that was a huge big deal.
HOC: So that put you up ahead of anyone else up-and-coming in the party.
MLMcD: Oh, it was a huge deal for me, obviously personally. But it was a hugely big deal for the party in the city and nationally.
HOC: In August 2003, you spoke at a Sinn Fein event to commemorate Sean Russell, who was the IRA chief of staff during World War II and is viewed as a Nazi collaborator. Why did you do that? [Russell died in 1940 on a German U-boat travelling to Nazi Germany where he was seeking support for the IRA's efforts to reunite north and south.]
MLMcD: I don't believe that anybody actually believes that he was a Nazi collaborator. He was certainly a militarist. He was certainly somebody who saw in pretty stark terms that Britain's problem was Ireland's opportunity. So there was a commemoration there annually. I was asked to speak at it and I did.
HOC: Do you regret speaking at it?
MLMcD: No. I mean, there were members of his family who still lived in Fairview. Some of them still lived in London and used to come back for the commemoration.
HOC: A lot of people would be appalled that you'd speak at a commemorative event for someone like Sean Russell.
MLMcD: He was a militarist, but he was not a Nazi collaborator. There's nothing to support that contention. My assessment of him is that he saw in very narrow terms the struggle for freedom in a framework that was, as I said, 'Britain's problem is our opportunity'. I think that was misguided, if that assists you in your line of questioning.
On speaking at commemorations: 'If you examine the words that are spoken ... you will find that there is an explicit running theme about reconciliation'
HOC: You don't have any regrets about doing it?
MLMcD: It's like I said earlier on - you have to make your decisions, do your work.
HOC: Some people might see that as testing your mettle, your preparedness to back people associated with the IRA, the republican movement, and Sinn Fein who wouldn't be commemorated by other parties. Do you see it that way?
MLMcD: No, because I've spoken at countless commemorations since and will speak at countless commemorations again.
HOC: In 2017, you spoke at a commemoration for the Tyrone Volunteers in Strabane. A lot of victims' campaigners were very annoyed by that. Kenny Donaldson, of the victims and survivors groups, the South East Fermanagh Foundation, said you were associating yourself "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".
MLMcD: Well, I don't accept that assessment - although I absolutely accept the fact that there are survivors and victims across society who need to be acknowledged and supported.
HOC: But they feel that you kind of give them two fingers when you do that?
MLMcD: No. I would invite you to examine the words that I said at that commemoration. What you will find is that a great deal of what I had to say was about healing and reconciliation.
And in fact, if you examine the words that are spoken at commemorations... you will find that there is an explicit running theme about reconciliation, about forgiveness, about forging a new future. They're not occasions on which there is an attempt made to stir up hurt or offence for others. They are used as occasions to assess our republican progress.
HOC: A lot of people see these as events that try to justify those actions. A lot of people are appalled by that.
MLMcD: Lots of people, I'm sure, are equally appalled at commemorative events for the British army and for loyalism… Those things, those people mattered, they lived, they lived the life that they lived. We had a war, there was a conflict, they lost their lives in the course of that. They have families who live still on this island. I think it is not just valuable to remember, I think it's essential to remember.
HOC: So, IRA volunteers matter?
MLMcD: Of course they matter. Their people buried them too. Of course they matter. And British soldiers matter and loyalists matter. All of those human lives mattered, every single one of those human lives mattered. The men that died in the Blocks mattered - of course they mattered.
HOC: Do you ever think about how much hurt it causes people when you do things like that?
MLMcD: I met with a group called Wave [Trauma]. They're actually a group of victims and survivors. Alan McBride, who lost his wife in the Shankill Road [bombing], co-ordinates and facilitates them. I met with them, I've met with other groups. Some of these were people who were very badly injured in IRA actions and it's very humbling to meet with those people.
What always has struck me is the extent to which they accept where you're coming from. They accept that there needs to be - and we desperately need to find - a pathway forward. I'm always struck by the fact that that's their primary concern and consideration.
HOC: But not all people accept that. Not all victims, not all the families of victims accept that?
MLMcD: No, and I accept that too.
She understands the hurt she causes but sees her role as one of looking forward, not back. "My job is to ensure that we have an Ireland and we have a society, politics that ensures that we never have a repeat of what happened through the '70s, the '80s and into the '90s. That's my job."
Like her predecessor, the Sinn Fein leader believes it was a necessary 'war' and defends it in a way no other party leader does. "I wish it hadn't happened. But it was a justified campaign," she says. "It was inevitable; it was utterly inevitable and anybody with even a passing sense of Irish history could have predicted it surely as night followed day."
To observers, McDonald's willingness to articulate these positions - in such a way that it is hard not to conclude she believes in them deeply - has led to her becoming Sinn Fein leader.
Throughout much of the last decade, McDonald demonstrated unstinting loyalty to Gerry Adams, to whom she still speaks every week ("Gerry is very wise").
But amid mounting pressure on Adams over his handling of the whole affair, McDonald also said in interviews that Cahill's claims that Sinn Fein members did not co-operate with the police inquiry were a "falsehood" and a "slur".
HOC: Do you think that you mishandled the Mairia Cahill affair?
MLMcD: In fairness to Mairia, I think she was very courageous in the stance that she took. I know she was frustrated with us.
HOC: Do you think you mishandled it?
MLMcD: I hope in the end we handled it right. I hope I handled it right in meeting with her and so on. But yes, it wasn't well handled. From her point of view, it wasn't well handled and she was frustrated with us.
HOC: Whose fault was that?
MLMcD: That was our fault. I mean she was raising issues, she was hurt, I think she was very brave.
[In November 2018 a Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman report said Sinn Fein members interviewed as part of the Cahill abuse investigation did not co-operate with police. This led to a meeting between McDonald, by then Sinn Fein leader, and Cahill.
According to Cahill's notes, McDonald repeatedly said there was no cover-up by her party and no one from Sinn Fein investigated the abuse. When Cahill said the IRA had involved themselves in investigating her abuse, McDonald is recorded in the notes as saying: "I know that is your story, that is what you say happened, and if that did happen, it was wrong."]
HOC: Do you not think that it's your responsibility to believe victims of abuse when they tell their stories?
MLMcD: I know countless scenarios and I would never gainsay a person when they come forward and tell their story of abuse.
However, I am not asked to make adjudications in complex scenarios like that, that's my point you see. Because that's what you're asking me to do. I don't think that's actually fair.
HOC: I'm not asking you to adjudicate, I'm asking for your view.
MLMcD: But I've given you my view.
She glances at the clock on her wall. "It's now quarter to five," she says.
She wants to be on the road by 20 past and her adviser is pushing to conclude sooner, because "something else has come up". Visibly frustrated, she observes: "We haven't gone anywhere near government formation, the party, the actual politics of now."
HOC: Something that did come up during the election was the Paul Quinn case. The family want [Sinn Fein's NI finance minister] Conor Murphy to say that their son is not a criminal. Conor hasn't said that. Does he need to say that?
[Quinn's mother Breege has repeatedly called for Murphy to say publicly that her son was not a criminal, saying the slur on his name compounded her family's grief after the 21-year-old was beaten to death by a gang in a farm shed across the Border near Castleblayney, Co Monaghan, in 2007].
Breege and Stephen Quinn hold an image of their murdered son Paul (Liam McBurney/PA)
MLMcD: Conor has given his apology, Conor has written to them. They need to speak to each other. I've said that to Breege.
HOC: Do you think that Conor needs to just say that Paul Quinn was not a criminal.
MLMcD: No, I think Conor needs to speak to Mrs Quinn and her family.
HOC: OK - and have you told him to do that?
MLMcD: Oh, he wrote to them seeking the meeting.
HOC: And has he got a response?
MLMcD: I don't think so.
HOC: Does it annoy you having to deal with questions about this stuff?
HOC: I sense you're annoyed.
Fianna Fail and Fine Gael have frozen Sinn Fein out of government talks, partly because they believe it does not operate as a normal party. They have both recently cited a passage from Burned, a best-selling account of the North's renewable heat incentive debacle. It recounts Sinn Fein's then Stormont finance minister, Mairtin O Muilleoir, writing to Sinn Fein stalwart Ted Howell asking if he would be "content" if he signed off on a plan to cut costs to the troubled scheme. To outside observers, this was a Sinn Fein elected representative seeking permission from an unelected apparatchik.
Ed Moloney, author of A Secret History of the IRA, has describes Howell as Gerry Adams's "most trusted adviser" and "arguably one of the most influential figures in the Provisionals".
David Sterling, the most senior civil servant in NI, wrote to a colleague at the time of O Muilleoir's email that the Sinn Fein minister "may be acting under instruction".
McDonald says this view was wrong. "He was seeking a view," she argues, adding "any decisions made on Mairtin's watch are Mairtin's calls."
HOC: Do you know Ted Howell?
MLMcD: I do.
HOC: How often would you speak to him?
MLMcD: Not much now, Ted has retired. Ted's a great cook. Not alone do I know him, anybody who would have been involved for decades in the whole process of peace and negotiations, they all know him. Bertie Ahern would have spoken to him before.
HOC: He was also viewed as one of the most influential figures in the Provisionals.
People look at that and they look at the likes of Padraic Wilson, a former officer in command of the IRA in the Maze, and Martin Lynch, who served 10 years for having a rocket launcher, and think 'why are Sinn Fein associating with these people?'
MLMcD: Because the whole purpose of the peace process was to engage everybody in politics. So Ted and the others that you cite - actually, that is evidence of the huge success of the peace process.
HOC:: The fact that they are in the room?
HOC: Does it worry you that voters are seeing that those kinds of people are in the room making decisions? Do you think it might put some voters off Sinn Fein?
MLMcD: No. I think people are fair, and I think people make balanced assessments of things. For a lot of people, whatever their assessment of the past - and what happened or what might have happened - I think there's a uniform view across Irish society that the peace process is probably the big, big achievement of the last generations of politics. And I think people find great relief and reassurance in the fact that the process, for all of its ups and downs, is very robust.
HOC: You disagree with the PSNI and MI5 assessment that the Provisional army council still exists and members of it believe they control and oversee the IRA and Sinn Fein?
MLMcD: It's just not true. It's not that I disagree, it's totally, factually not true. The assessment - and I'm sure you've read it - but what it actually says is 'persons unnamed believe that'.
HOC: But why do they believe it?
MLMcD: I can't answer for them and if they do believe it, put it in your paper that they're wrong - so I'm happy to clarify it.
HOC: So why do you think that that's been put out there by MI5 and the PSNI?
MLMcD: Well, because they're MI5, I would imagine.
HOC: [Garda Commissioner] Drew Harris says he agrees with that assessment?
MLMcD: Well of course Drew Harris was part of the northern policing. In fairness, I wouldn't expect him to disagree with that.
HOC: Is he wrong?
MLMcD: No, he's given his view … what is wrong is to say that the party that I lead is controlled or directed, manipulated, constructed by anybody other than the people in leadership positions - primarily myself, Michelle [O'Neill] and others.
McDonald sees the involvement of former IRA volunteers in Sinn Fein now as no different from when those involved in the Easter Rising, the War of Independence and the Civil War became involved in Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.
"Fine Gael honour the likes of Michael Collins, who was in the first instance a soldier and an IRA leader. So this is all really a diversionary tactic by those parties and I don't think it washes any more.
"I think people are very appreciative of the peace and I think people understand and accept our bona fides as political leaders, as political activists, as people who live here and who want the best for our country."
Sinn Fein won more votes than any other party in February's general election and 535,595 voters did not believe its intrinsic links to the Provisional IRA and its continued justification for 'the war' mattered enough to keep it out of power. Far from resiling from her two-decade defence of everything her predecessors in the republican movement did, McDonald, emboldened by her electoral success, defends them more vociferously now than ever before. It is a strategy which, objectively, is bearing fruit.
With a spell as the lead opposition appearing likely, she is making the case for greater state intervention to deal with the fallout from the Covid-19 crisis. Much of this can be funded from borrowing, she argues. But it is not, as the Taoiseach said last week, free money.
HOC: How do we pay for it eventually?
MLMcD: We work hard, we pay our taxes ... We made the point consistently - banks should not have a honeymoon period in respect of corporate tax. We've talked about people on very high incomes, and I'm not talking about people who are well paid…
HOC: You're talking about people on €100,000-plus?
[McDonald misspoke here. Sinn Fein's manifesto proposed a 5pc levy on income above €140,000 - an effective third rate of income tax.]
HOC: You think that's a lot of money?
MLMcD: Oh, I think if you're earning €150,000, lucky you, it's a lot of money. The vast bulk of Irish workers earn less than €40,000, so if you're earning €150,000, more power to you, fair play to you.
HOC: It used to be €100,000 and you've moved it to €150,000 now, why was that?
MLMcD: I mean, you shift and move your policies all of the time. When you look at the maths and you have to balance the books and things have to add up and things have to be paid for, you make taxation decisions on that basis.
HOC: Is it because it would appeal to more people on Orwell Road?
MLMcD: No... There's lots of people on Orwell Road who don't earn €150,000 - most of them don't. It's a very small section of workers who are that lucky.
Taxation isn't an instrument of punishment or vengeance; it's the mechanism by which we raise the funds that collectively we need to provide for the services that we rely on. So it's movable but, of course, what's not a movable option is the reality that if you have more, you pay more.
HOC: One of the core wealth taxes in other economies is property tax, but you want to abolish that.
MLMcD: If you live in a two-up two-down in East Wall or in Ballyfermot, your house is your sole asset. You'll have spent your whole working life paying for it - or if you're a younger person and you've negative equity. For some people. it nearly becomes an albatross around your neck. I don't believe an effective wealth tax is directed at the family home and that's the difference that we have.
Sinn Fein believes the Border poll question cannot be ignored by any party. McDonald argues that the Covid crisis makes it necessary to plan on an all-island basis - a view Leo Varadkar said was "unhelpful".
She wants the British government to set out its understanding of the threshold for which a Border poll can be held under the Good Friday Agreement and a citizens' assembly set up.
She has had plenty of goodwill come her way in recent weeks after recovering from a "horrible" bout of Covid-19. Arlene Foster was in touch, Micheal Martin left a voicemail, but there was nothing from Leo Varadkar.
She also reveals: "Prince Charles wrote to me in the aftermath to wish me well, which I thought was nice. He was sorry that I had been sick and that he wished me well and that he had been through a hard experience himself - just nice. So, if you want a measure of how much things have changed, there's one, I suppose, small example."
Back to full health, she is thinking about the future. Asked how long she might stay on as leader, she responds: "Certainly I have my eye on the next decade as a huge decade of opportunity."
Since February, Sinn Fein has added 5,000 members. "There's a real sense and appetite for change in the air. I see Sinn Fein at the vanguard of that, driving that change. We talked about the peace process, a time when Sinn Fein were very much to the fore in driving that agenda of change. I think now we're into another situation where we're at the fore of that."
For Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, the party remains unpalatable as a coalition partner. This is a view backed by most, but not all, of the parties' supporters. But it is not a position that will be sustainable forever - and McDonald knows this.
"I think Irish people, people in this State now think that politics is way beyond FF/FG, whose turn is it next," she says. "I see us as a party preparing for government, to be in government.
HOC: But not this time, probably?
MLMcD: Well, I wouldn't say that. Let's see how it plays out. The Green Party has a decision to make, for sure. But there's nobody going to credibly argue that FF/FG back in government together is change.
HOC: It is change if they copy your manifesto?
MLMcD: Plagiarism and theft.
HOC: It's a huge shift, it's a fundamental policy shift.
MLMcD: I would call it, same old, same old. Old-fashioned opportunism. It's not just a case of producing the framework for change and striking the right rhetorical pose. You actually have to go then and be true to those principles and deliver those things.
What I hear them saying about housing, for example, and the Land Development Agency. I mean that has the potential to become Nama Mark II. It's opaque, there's no FOIs allowed. It'll become O'Devaney Gardens writ large, where public lands are used to build minimal public housing and build houses ordinary working people simply won't be able to afford. I see the same old, same old written all over their approach to government thus far.
HOC: So you're going to give it 10 more years?
MLMcD: Well, I mean, I'm not presumptuous. The ard fheis appoints the leader, votes for the leader. Despite what others might think, we're highly democratic in that regard.
HOC: Would you welcome a leadership challenge?
MLMcD: If there's a challenge, there's a challenge.
HOC: Would you welcome it? Disabuse us of this notion that Gerry Adams was unchallenged for 34 years and you were his heir apparent?
MLMcD: Right, if people think that, they think that. But I can tell you I am there by dint of my colleagues and if there's a challenger, there's a challenger. I've no issue with that, absolutely no issue.
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