Belfast Telegraph

I'm here to stay, insists McDonald after polls shock

Mary Lou McDonald
Mary Lou McDonald

By Aoife Moore

Mary Lou McDonald has defended her position as leader of Sinn Fein after a bruising weekend at the polls.

Her party lost almost half its seats in the Republic of Ireland's local council elections - the second election during Ms McDonald's tenure as leader in which votes have decreased.

There has been much media speculation that Ms McDonald now faces a fight to keep her position as Sinn Fein chief.

Asked if her leadership was in trouble, Ms McDonald replied: "No, I don't believe so.

"I believe that when you take on (the job) to lead an organisation such as ours - we're a big organisation, we're a national organisation - you have to steel yourself for the days that things don't go your way.

"That really is a more direct test of a leader.

"It's easy to lead when you're on a surge, when things are going your way. The test comes when things don't go right. The test comes when you have a situation that's difficult.

"(It's about) how you handle that and how you bring your party with you, and I'm determined to do that.

"I'm determined that we will learn the lessons and I'm determined that we will be back again.

"Any seat that we have lost, let me say, we will be back to win those seats back."

Ms McDonald was speaking at the Castlebar count centre for the Midlands North West constituency, where incumbent Sinn Fein MEP Matt Carthy looked likely to return to Brussels in the third of the four seats.

Mr Carthy conceded that his vote was down on the 2014 election and said that the party would "have to learn lessons fast" in order to remedy the damage caused by the disappointing election results.

Ms McDonald agreed with Mr Carthy, saying: "Obviously, we have had a tough election in terms of the council seats that we have lost. We've lost very good people, very fine public representatives. The party will have to reflect and gather ourselves and get back to work."

Commentators believe Sinn Fein suffered because of a splintering of left-wing parties in the Republic, with smaller parties and independents gaining ground over established groups.

The shock elimination of former Sinn Fein MEP Lynn Boylan in Dublin, where independent Clare Daly gained the seat, has been flagged by many as a sign of growing apathy towards the party in favour of a new, left-leaning type of Irish politics, as well as a Green surge, with the Dublin constituency voting overwhelmingly for environmental candidate Ciaran Cuffe.

Meanwhile, on the fourth day of the Ireland South marathon count in Nemo Rangers GAA Club, Co Cork, yesterday, Sinn Fein TD Jonathan O'Brien said he still believed Liadh Ni Riada was "in a very strong position" to retain her seat.

Asked if the party would be disappointed if Ms Ni Riada ended up taking the fifth seat, he said: "A seat is a seat. We set out to win a seat.

"If it's the fifth seat, obviously we will need to analyse the impact that has because nobody is exactly sure what the fifth seat entails yet."

The count, which began on Sunday, has been delayed by the sheer size and volume of the 2ft-long ballot papers, featuring 23 candidates. Ireland South, which has an electorate of 1.4m, had a total of 755,000 votes.

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