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Unionists were right to be fearful that Home Rule meant Rome Rule, admits Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald

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Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald has said there was some truth in the old unionist slogan "Home Rule means Rome Rule".

The Dublin TD - who is convinced she will one day become Taoiseach - made the admission during a wide-ranging and at times deeply personal interview for Human Nature, a new podcast by award-winning Fermanagh journalist Rodney Edwards.

Speaking of her school days and being taught by nuns in 1970s Ireland, Ms McDonald said she felt that "the Ireland I grew up in was a cold house for women in many, many ways. And I rejected that as soon as I could understand it".

And while aware of Northern Ireland being what she called "a cold house for Catholics", she added: "There was merit when our unionist friends feared and said that 'Home Rule was Rome Rule'.

"But we have to say that out loud, because that did nobody any favours, and I say that as Catholic, and I know lots of people who are Catholics do recognise that that was wrong - and it actually damaged everyone, and I think it damaged the Church too."

In the interview she spoke not only about politics and her hopes for high office, but also about her personal and family life, and the events both personal and political that shaped her outlook.

Ms McDonald talked at length about her upbringing and background, including the impact her parents' separation had on her formative years and about her own marriage and children.

At the end of this month she will have been married to her husband Martin Lanigan for 24 years.

The couple met in a Dublin city centre pub, introduced by mutual friends.

"I met Martin in a pub called Peter's Pub. It's a tiny wee pub, and actually it was at the time of the Italia 90 and there was a match on. I can't remember who we were playing, we were playing someone and I came across him in a state of high dudgeon shouting at the referee, you know this 'referee', you know what I mean.

"So, actually I said jeepers, that guy's going to actually do himself physical damage screaming like that at the telly.

"We just clicked immediately. I liked him from the very, very off, he was very different to lots of the lads I would've grown up with. He was from the North side, he was a bit older. So, it just worked, we just work together."

They have two children and Ms McDonald described a home filled with fun and laughter. "One of my kids is just an amazing mimic and has like just the craziest sense of humour and comes out with mad stuff, like he would ring me on my phone and leave messages in all sorts of different accents and voices.

"Actually, he answered the phone to Michelle O'Neill the other night and answered her in an Asian accent. 'Hello lovely lady', he called her, so she hung up and then she rang me back after it and said 'I rang you and somebody that I didn't recognise answered'. It was my son.

"He does a good Northern accent, he mimics some of my colleagues.

"He did a great one of Martina Anderson. She said: 'That's a rat'. I said: 'I know, but he's my rat'.

"So, we laugh a lot and laugh until we cry. In fairness, I've never any shortage of laughter."

The Sinn Fein president, who has recently recovered from a bout of Covid-19, revealed that she had not been able to see her mother for nine weeks.

"She's in great health, thank God, like. We're very, very lucky and she's very independent and all of that," she said.

"But still it's hard for all of us sort of when that kind of distance is enforced and the only safe thing to do with your parents or your grandparents is actually to stay at a distance."

Asked what was the most mischievous thing she did while growing up, Ms McDonald told a story about how she had upset her mother by chopping off her hair.

"When I was about five or maybe six I cut my own hair.

"I'd lovely hair, I gave myself a fringe, which I thought was wonderful, and my mother… I remember my mother having an absolute fit."

"I had literally butchered my hair," she said.

Turning to political affairs, Ms McDonald said she was confident of one day becoming Ireland's premier.

"I don't say that in a vain way, I'm not trying to pat myself on the back.

"I think the time is right now for a woman to lead government here. Obviously, we have broken that glass ceiling in the North and I think similarly it's time here in the South."

Asked for her view of another female leader - the DUP's Arlene Foster - Ms McDonald said: "I like the fact that she stands up for herself, I actually like that.

"I find Arlene a really, really interesting character. I like her.

"She's a leader in political life, and I know as a woman, you know, you earn your place, let me put it to you that way.

"So, I respect that immensely. She's a mother of children, so she faces all of the issues that... no more than myself, so I like all of those things about her, actually.

"I like that she's from Fermanagh, and that she's very connected with her place and very proud of where she comes from.

"I like that."

The full Human Nature podcast is available on Apple, Spotify and at impartialreporter.com

Belfast Telegraph