Belfast Telegraph

Frustrating Sinn Fein leader McDonald brings so much disappointment

By Kevin Doyle

This is what leadership looks like, Mary Lou McDonald proudly proclaimed yesterday.

Fresh from her White House snub, the Sinn Fein president was very sure of herself as she announced a classic political fudge on abortion.

The party won't hold an Ard Fheis to decide their position on whether to support terminations up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy until after the Republic's referendum on the Eighth Amendment, which gives equal legal protection to both the life of the mother and the unborn child.

Ms McDonald refuses to accept that this was a way of merely kicking the can down the road for fear that the grassroots might not be as open to the idea as the hierarchy.

"No, no, we're not. We're leading," she said without a hint of irony.

"This is what leaders do.

"This is what political leaderships do.

"They come up to the front and they set out their stall, they set out their position.

"They don't dodge hard questions.

"They take them on in a respectful way and they have that conversation with their base."

But the reality is that Irish voters now head into the referendum campaign with the knowledge that on polling day a majority of TDs don't support the legislation being proposed by their government.

At the last count, just 57 TDs support unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks, while 73 (including Sinn Fein) are against it.

The abortion conundrum is one of the first big challenges for Ms McDonald as party leader. Sinn Fein's reputation as a party with a bullying problem and an army of online trolls is another.

She must have been fuming when it was drawn back onto the agenda over the weekend by Senator Maire Devine's inexplicable decision to retweet a fake account describing murdered prison officer Brian Stack as a sadist.

"She is extremely apologetic," Ms McDonald pledged, while insisting a three month suspension is adequate punishment.

In essence all that means is that the senator won't have to attend party meetings for a few weeks.

And don't hold your breath for her to vote against Sinn Fein in any Seanad votes even though she's currently outside of the whip.

Ms McDonald reckoned the latest episode, fresh on the heels of Barry McElduff's loaf-gate, should be a lesson to all of us.

"It highlights the fact that users of social media need to be very careful. Don't retweet something without reading its full content," she advised a small room of journalists. "That's the first issue.

"And secondly, just to be thoughtful and mindful that when you tweet something, it's going out in the public domain."

And turning to the TV cameras, she added: "Please, for goodness sake, be cautious, be thoughtful and if you make a mistake, accept the mistake immediately and if an apology is due to another human being, make that apology."

That's why Ms McDonald proves so frustrating as a politician. She brings so much promise and so much disappointment.

Over recent weeks we have seen her charm Ryan Tubridy on 'The Late Late Show' before trying to rewrite history by claiming the Provisional IRA's 'Tiocfaidh ár lá' is a suitable slogan for a new Ireland.

She has got under Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's skin in the Dail, but then described him as "smarmy" to Sky News. And we have seen her back the Irish government on Brexit, but refuse to send her MPs to the Westminster parliament where they could match words with actions.

So while in many ways Mary Lou McDonald is what leadership looks like, it's not that straightforward.

Looks can be deceiving.

Belfast Telegraph

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