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Selling Irish unity to unionists will be 'tricky', says Sinn Fein chief McDonald

Sinn Fein leader says any 'new Ireland' must respect and facilitate the beliefs of everyone

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Podcast: Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald

Podcast: Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald

Podcast: Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald has laid out her plans for a united Ireland, but warned that people must start preparing a Plan B and Plan C, as their first option of what that might look like may not be available.

Ms McDonald also had her say on the role women play in government, and hit out at those who continue to link her party to the IRA.

Speaking to the Basically with Stefanie Preissner podcast, Ms McDonald said the issue of convincing unionists that embracing a new Ireland was the way forward was "a tricky one".

"Once upon a time everybody agreed that Ireland should be free," she said.

"We have never strayed from that belief, but I hope we're all going to get back on that page again, even though there has been a lot of hurt and injury and sadness. We now have a viable, robust democratic process and I hope that now will be our moment where we fix the thing that was broken and end partition.

"I think that we can have not just an united Ireland, but an equal Ireland, an entire society of people getting the chance to turn the page.

"Unionists, loyalists, call them whatever, that's a tricky one. On the one hand we've got to accept and respect the fact that when we have our debate and our referendum on unity they're going to come out and argue against it, which they are perfectly entitled to do. But at the same time we have to create a mechanism wherein everyone can have their first option - but if your first option is not available, what does Plan B and Plan C look like?

"I know from talking to unionists, or loyalists, or British citizens, they have some ideas as to what this new chapter, new Ireland, might look like. I don't want the new united Ireland to become a bigger Republic. That would be a complete waste of a huge opportunity.

"I hope we have learnt the lesson that you have to respect people's beliefs. The state that we live in has to facilitate all of that."

Ms McDonald also insisted that she is the sole leader of Sinn Fein and takes direction from no one else, and dismissed any suggestion that an IRA council runs the party as "daft".

"The IRA is gone. The war is over," she said. "There are small groups, unfortunately more than just random individuals. They are in no way connected to Sinn Fein. Absolutely not. We're not the flavour of the month with them at all. They regularly condemn us and threaten us. I am the leader of Sinn Fein. I am a woman. I am from Dublin. For some people that challenged stereotype.

"But I am in charge. It is just daft to suggest that anyone other than the democratically appointed and elected leader of the party is in charge.

"It has been a frustration for me, but there has been just a little echo of misogyny and sexism.

"I remember when I first came to the Dail, the mere fact of being a woman marked you out. There's so few of us. We've made some progress but we're not there yet.

"The last thing I want to be is a moaning woman. We're strong, we're smart, we're capable and more of us should be involved in political life.

"Politics is supposed to be representative of the people. You can't say you're fully representative when women are still there in such low numbers."

Belfast Telegraph