Belfast Telegraph

Mary Lou McDonald clear frontrunner to take Sinn Fein top job

By John Downing and Steven Alexander

Mary Lou McDonald is the clear favourite to succeed Gerry Adams as the leader of Sinn Fein.

The Louth TD and former West Belfast MP has been president of Sinn Fein since 1983, and there has been much speculation over when he would stand down.

The only other serious contender aside from party deputy Ms McDonald is Pearse Doherty, who must now make a decision over whether to stand against her.

However, it is possible he will fill the vacancy left by Ms McDonald in the No.2 position.

Observers say Ms McDonald has the necessary experience and judgment for the top job.

She also has the blessing of the party's inner circle who will effectively make or break any potential leader.

Donegal TD Doherty is based in Ulster, and a native Irish speaker in the only party where Gaeilge counts. But his very good Dail and media performances do not carry into his one-to-one contacts with people and he cannot match Ms McDonald's interpersonal skills.

Others cited are seen as longshots.

Michelle O'Neill the leader in the north, is unknown in the Republic and too obdurate about power-sharing. But she may be a contender for the deputy's position - which would see two women lead the party, meaning they would have a foot in both camps, north and south.

Newry and Armagh MLA Conor Murphy, once a contender, has long ago fallen out of favour with the party hierarchy.

Dublin Mid-West TD, Eoin O Broin might be a future leader.

The former Belfast councillor is smart and has knowledge of politics in both of Ireland's capital cities - but not this time.

Regardless of the speculation, Mr Adams will be with us for some time yet.

In November he will ask Ard Fheis delegates to re-elect him.

When they astonish us all, and do just that, he will set out his plans for "generational leadership change" - making it likely that he will complete another year and then maybe pass the baton.

It will be a long goodbye - and Mr Adams set out his intentions to step aside in a section of his speech about Sinn Fein's 10-year plan.

But taking his time will allow Mr Adams to position those whom he favours into the right roles.

It will also allow him to set the party on the trajectory he wants under the leadership he will anoint, in a similar fashion to how the party has operated in Northern Ireland recently.

However, there is also speculation on another pre-election Ard Fheis next spring to allow a new leader to emerge and fight an early Irish general election which could happen any time.

Regardless of how it happens, Mr Adams yesterday gave "his orderly leadership change" the blessing of the late Martin McGuinness. The imprimatur of a republican of Mr McGuinness' stature will help smooth the way.

Belfast Telegraph

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