Mary Lou McDonald: A young political life less ordinary…

Alex Kane has been doing his homework on Mary Lou McDonald. It’s a good, well researched profile piece. And goes some way to explaining why she’s become such a lynchpin between Sinn Fein’s past and its future. She is not a woman to be in any way underestimated.

In short…

  • Born on May Day, 1969 and raised in the affluent Rathgar: she has two brothers and a sister
  • She was educated at Notre Dame, a private fee-paying school in Dublin
  • She had a “road to Damascus” moment in 1981 when she watched news about the hunger strikes
  • She married Martin Lanigan in the mid-1990s and they have two children
  • She joined Fianna Fail in 1998, turned down a safe council seat and then defected to Sinn Fein shortly afterwards
  • She was an MEP, and is now a TD and deputy leader of Sinn Fein. Many believe she will be the next leader

But do it read it all


  • megatron

    I would have a hard time separating her and Pearse for the future leadership.

    I think in todays world you might need you best performer at finance and Pearse is such a detail guy which is not absolutely neccessary in a leader.

    I really wish the pair could be rolled out prior to GE but it looks unlikely.

    PS – by cynical if you want but Mary Lou would have had an easier and “better” (minister) career in FF but she chose the much harder route (at the time) of SF. Fair play for going with your beliefs.

  • A good read.
    But ultimately not a Leader for the “North” .
    She always strikes me as an improved version of Caitriona Ruane.
    She has got as far as she has because she is “different” Sinn Fein can point at Caitriona and Mary Lou and claim that they are not all Boys and Girls of the Old Brigade.
    Indeed..understandably there are even younger people who are in the Ruane-McDonald image.
    But in the foreseeable future, the Sinn Fein Leader will be someone who can muse with the lads in the Felons Club and point out some leatherwork she hand-crafted in Armagh or wooden harp he made in Long Kesh.
    Or at least KNOW the people who did this kinda thing.
    Mary Lou just doesn’t tick enough boxes.

  • megatron


    Any suggestions? A Felon’s alumni would have been feasible 10 or at a push 5 years ago but no longer. None of them are under 50 now.

    The next leader will almost certainly be from the 26 counties.

  • Morpheus

    Alex says that “On more than one occasion she has been mauled during interviews.”

    Has anyone actually seen this happen because I have watched numerous interviews and have yet to see her even break a sweat never mind become ‘mauled.’ She seems to be just as capable on the floor of The Dail as she is in front of the media.

    As an FYI, the BT also reported last week that Pearse has ruled himself out of any SF leadership race, if there is one so it looks like MLMD will lead SF 3.0 so let the character assassinations commence.

  • Charles_Gould

    Not sure that the old “Felons Club” thing relevant any more. Key thing for SF is Dail.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Does anyone else think the story about the hunger strikes is an attempted link with “the struggle” just to gain a little credibility with the old guard?

    Don’t know about in Republican circles, but elsewhere she has no real profile in Northern Ireland, Doherty however straddles the border.. but is the Dublin vote more inportant?

  • megatron

    Drumlins Rock – I think it is more likely given her subsequent actions that the Hunger Strikes did have a big influence on her.

    That said Dublin vote is more important. Border vote is near to ceiling already.

  • megatron

    Paddy power basically see the race as

    ML 60-70% chance
    Pearse 10-20% chance
    Assorted Northerners 10-20% chance

    Seems about right to me

  • Charles_Gould

    I can’t see anyone in NI who would tick the boxes in Dublin. Mary Lou definitely has that.

  • Charles_Gould

    She is a bit young to have been affected by the hunger strikes. She would not even have been sent to public school by that time.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Megatron, she didn’t act on them in anyway for another 17 years!

    Alex Kane as ever says much more between the lines than in the actual article!

    It looks like Sinn Fein is going to be led by a privately educated middle class “lily white” career politician, who wouldn’t look out of place on the Tory front bench!

  • Megatron
    As a SDLP member, it would be improper for me to suggest who might be the next SF Leader.
    The “best” is the one that brings them success.
    The “best” from my point of view is the exact opposite.
    But they have a genuine dilemna, more so if the departure of the current Leader is too hurried or too delayed.
    his comments today dont help.
    The Leader it would seem should be a man or woman who can do the “economic” talk in the South and the “constitutional” talk in the North.
    I dont believe there is any northern leader (John O’Dowd for example) who can do that.
    Nor do I believe Mary Lou can do it.
    Of course there is a generational thing…and Drumlins Rock is absolutely right….there is a tendency for the teenagers in SF to talk about their admiration for dead heroes but they are mostly spoofing.

    SF can spend the next century going to Castlederg pilgrimages…and evoking the memory of Bobby Sands….like FG go to West Cork pilgrimages and FF evoke the memory of Liam Lynch….but in the 21st century, they need someone who can do it with a certain amount of conviction.
    Theres a broader dilemna. SF cant talk out of both sides of their mouth at the same time.
    They cant put out lists of candidates who have no baggage mixed with candidates who have a history.
    The ex-paramilitary and the ambitious careerist with a Politics degree and a Twitter account is a fault line that can be exploited.
    Nothing lasts for ever.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Of course there is often a divergence between contenders who gain a party votes and contenders who gain votes within the party…

    The former is often a “moderniser” the latter a “traditionalist”. However with no tradtitional candidate in the frame it is normally more open… but this is SF, Gerry seems to be infalible to the end and I think he will want to appoint his sucessor, just a question of when.

    I wonder by the end of 2016 what proportion of SF will be from the old brigade?

  • Morpheus


    As an SDLP member can you shed any light on what exactly the party are doing about the Idea ranked #1 on their website? The website seems a little vague and lacks in detail.

    It seems to me that SF are a country mile ahead at the moment with their all-island structure, how well they are doing on both sides of the border and talented people like Mary-Lou and Pearse Doherty coming through. They seem to be taking the moderate nationalist vote from right under your noses. Would you agree?

  • I can do lots of things.

  • Morpheus

    I am very keen to listen because I want to know how the SDLP intend to win my vote back but I have just watched you descend from a seasoned, interesting, articulate poster to this schoolyard bollix in just a few short posts so won’t be wasting my time. Have a nice day.

  • Morpheus

    FFS, what is the yellow card for now?

    This is farcical

  • Ruarai

    The current SF leadership cut their teeth – quite literally in some cases – in armed combat; they became Irish Republicans through their experiences of living through political and, later, violent conflict.

    Mary Lou’s own narrative is that she become a Republican…by watching all this. On television. In Rathgar.

    Is this really the future of SF?

  • Mick Fealty

    Barging the ref is red card territory, but yellow was for barging other contributors on the basis of ‘who they are’ rather than on the topic in hand. Don’t do it Morph!

  • Dixie Elliott

    The Hunger Strike yarn was likely put in her head by Adams or one of the SF spin doctors, as one person I know of who canvassed with her said at one time she didn’t know the names of any of the Hunger Strikers other than Bobby Sands.

    On another occasion while doorstepping she was asked about the first Blanket Man Kieran Nugent who had died due to drink related problems. She was asked as to why enough was not done to help him.

    Mary Lou turned to those with her and asked who Kieran Nugent was…

  • I can certainly believe that.
    In fairness, greybeards in all parties are shocked at how little young wannabe politicians (with politics degrees) know about their own party history.

  • sean treacy

    Dixie ,reminds me of one of your heroes ,the late Alan Ryan who insisted in a newspaper interview that there were 9 hungerstrikers as he enthused about the dissos laughable “campaign”.

  • Dixie Elliott

    Ah Sean Tracey again, being as you often like to accuse me and others of getting into bed with ‘anti-Republican’ Journalists and the gutter press, I’d like to point out that leading members of your party are not too worried about getting into bed with them when it suits their agenda…

    A very recent case is that of a leading shinner, Mark McLernon, exposed by the Sunday World who taped him as he tried to blacken the name of Paul Quinn and members of the Paul Quinn Justice group by attempting to associate them with the killers of Dectective Garda Donohoe.

    Underhand dealings with the Sunday World exposed by that paper themselves because they saw through what McLernon was trying to do.

    Now I don’t buy that paper for obvious reasons but don’t accuse others of what your party’s leading members have been caught out doing sean tracey…

    How Mark peed the bed…

  • Mick Fealty

    Boys, boys… Is a Yellow apiece not good enough for ya?

  • Dixie Elliott

    Now Mick I’m only giving the ball back after it was kicked into my back yard…

  • Mick Fealty

    I know. But needs must once the devil drives. I’m serious lads. Sean, you know by now how it works. This is the last comment from me. Red cards WILL follow if it continues.

  • Charles_Gould

    If Gerry keeps going the way he did today, I will have to revise my view that he can stay for many years. He has sunk to a new low today with his remarks.

  • Morpheus

    “yellow was for barging other contributors on the basis of ‘who they are’ rather than on the topic in hand. Don’t do it Morph!”

    I asked a simple, polite question to an SDLP member Mick – being ii the SDLP’s target demographic it was a genuine request for information, no man playing and following on from their previous post.

    Meanwhile we have another poster who calls a fellow poster a ‘professional scumbag’ with no action whatsoever.

    What’s that all about?

  • boondock

    The way forward for SF is to appoint Pearse or Marly Lou as soon as possible. The SF vote has plateaued and will only increase if all those with ‘baggage’ are put out to pasture or certainly shoved into the background. No matter what you think of Gerry accusations and controversies are going to continue to linger until he steps down. Pearse is very capable but I would prefer Mary Lou to finally add some degree of glamour to Northern politics sick of looking at the usual bog beasts.

  • Was FF Senator Mary White the one who led her towards Sinn Féin? Mary Lou’s sister Joanne has been a member of Éirígí.

    Instead she had teamed up with Mary “Gerry-Adams-is-a-Great-Man” White (currently a FF senator) in a Fianna Fail women’s group. Together they organised a meeting in a Dublin hotel about events in the Garvaghy Road in Portadown, which some of the party faithful found a bit strange as they were trying to fight elections about more mundane issues like medical cards and water charges in working-class estates in Blanchardstown and Mulhuddart.

    There were also “fraternal” delegations going back and forward with Mary Lou meeting Brendan McKenna and other “activists” with close links to Sinn Fein. Within a short time she decided to resign from FF and join SF. “It became clear to me that I was in the wrong party,” she said last week. .. Liam Collins, Irish Independent, June 2004

    Collins’ article contains additional material to that provided by Alex Kane.

  • Old Mortality

    Her background can’t be all that bourgeois if she was named Mary-Lou. It sounds more Balllymun than Rathgar, unless she was actually baptised Marie-Louise which would might be something of a disadvantage when dealing with SF’s core constituency.

  • GEF

    What about Ms Caitríona Ruane as the SF next leader & President? She is from the South and unlike Mary Lou very well known in NI republican circles. likewise is squeaky clean.

  • “Clean hands and good with the media.” .. Alex Kane

    Well she is a member of a political organisation that takes its direction from the Army Council. Then there is her alleged association with the Athboy conspiracy:

    Gerry Adams: “Ask any activist in the north, ‘did Drumcree happen by accident?’, and he will tell you, ‘no’… Three years of work on the lower Ormeau Road, Portadown and parts of Fermanagh and Newry, Armagh and in Bellaghy and up in Derry… Three years of work went into creating that situation and fair play to those people who put the work in. They are the type of scene changes that we have to focus on and develop and exploit”.

    This is in direct contradiction to her comments at a recent summer school [youtube - 12m 15s]:

    .. in the best tradition of Irish republicanism that united we are stronger; that together we can create something new and better and equal and democratic in which nobody’s identity is threatened; in which civil and religious liberty are respected; in which the aspirations of all are recognised, appreciated and nurtured.

    Perhaps she believes her own propaganda; perhaps it hasn’t dawned on her that the constitutional aspirations are oppositional, that confrontation is unlikely to attract accommodation.

  • Charles_Gould

    “What about Ms Caitríona Ruane as the SF next leader & President? She is from the South and unlike Mary Lou very well known in NI republican circles. likewise is squeaky clean.”

    She is well thought of and I actually think that in the NI assembly a more popular figure now than when she was education minister.

  • Barnshee

    “She is well thought of and I actually think that in the NI assembly a more popular figure now than when she was education minister.”

    Who ?
    ah- the ” bring the bombers home girl” the proponent of comprehensive education who sent her child to a grammar


  • Charles_Gould