Shane Ross’s new book explores the questions at the heart of Mary Lou McDonald’s rise in Sinn Féin

At the beginning of Shane Ross’ Mary Lou McDonald biography, there’s a tragi comic outline of how the doors begin to close as Ross begins his research. McDonald himself was a bit surprised that anyone wanted to write such a book, because it was “a bit early”. McDonald’s said she would consult people. As a result of those consultations, she said she wouldn’t cooperate, but she wouldn’t get in his way either.

Everyone at Sinn Féin overcomes shyness. Gerry Kelly, the IRA hard man, has gone missing. Ross received a “No Shane. Grma xo ga” in a text message from Gerry Adams. Confused by this, he asked his family what it meant and his daughter deciphered it: ‘Go raibh maith agat, embrace, Gerry Adams’.

The group’s TDs who had agreed to meet with Ross all pulled out. It’s pretty obvious how he thinks they’re going to open apart from me, but if he’s going to write this book, he’s going to have to look elsewhere.

It reminds me of the movie, The story of the rooster and the bull, shows actors and directors trying and failing to make a movie Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. This book looks like it’s about Shane Ross who tried and failed to write a biography of Mary Lou McDonald.

Mary Lou McDonald: The Republican Quiz in the same way that Ross wrote his playbook as well as itself on the subject. Happily, Shane Ross is so charming and can influence the innocence that makes the reader always love him.

He gradually finds his way in, if not Sinn Féin, then at least with some acquaintances, and the search for Mary Lou begins in earnest. But what to discover? Although she was the leader of a major party, McDonald never really achieved anything or even held any office. Maybe she’s right, he’s a bit premature?

We have a somewhat unusual middle-class upbringing story in Rathgar. A father seems happy if unstable. A root mother. Her college career is remarkable only in how unremarkable she is.

But then her interest in politics was awakened and she found herself at the verdant end of Fianna Fáil. In Fianna Fáil, she stands out as obvious, and through her friendship with a Fianna Fáil republican, Nora Comiskey, she joined the National Congress of Ireland, a nonpartisan lobbying group for a united Ireland.

What Ross wanted to find out was whether Mary Lou’s nationalism was indicted for the sake of a political career or a deeply rooted value that was somehow turned out late. He found an ancestor in an old IRA – though who doesn’t have one of them? It may have something to do with her fundamentalist republicanism, Ross concluded.


‘Mary Lou McDonald: A Republican Riddle’ by Shane Ross

She claims the hunger strikes of the early 1980s made a deep impression on her, but McDonald’s early life seemed completely politically free. When most began to awaken to politics in their teens, Mary Lou just bowed her head. It seems her friendship with Comiskey has triggered a republicanism – perhaps sincere, certainly late-blooming.

Then she switched to Sinn Féin. In 2000, over 30 years old, McDonald got his first full-time job. She gets paid for by the group, wears its Ard Comhairle, and is almost in the ranks of Gerry Adams.

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Ross introduced someone who signed the Faustian treaty. For pay and publicity, she accepts the dark side of Sinn Féin, the provisional IRA. Mary Lou never disappoints them. When she was elected to the European Parliament in 2004, her first speech was a eulogy to Bobby Sands, and later a speech in praise of the IRA.

Being party chair shows that leadership has been firmly established in the Mary Lou Project. Her team of skydivers entered, if not a safe seat, at least a very good prospect, with longtime councilor and former IRA gunman Nicky Kehoe willing to step aside for her sake.

Although not elected in 2007, McDonald became the leader of the No faction in the Lisbon Treaty debate. She is clearly better on the national stage than domestic.

However, politics is local, and she needs to find a home. She went from not having a job, then earning an average industrial salary, to being able to buy a large detached mansion on Cabra Road. Her husband, Martin Lanigan, doesn’t seem to be a man of style. Where’s the money?

Ross asked the question, but there didn’t seem to be an answer. He is reaching out as he passes all the people who have ever donated to her campaigns.

If he had had the opportunity to ask her directly, Mary Lou might have answered with her typical nose pick: “Shane, do you want to know where I also get money for First Communion?”

It’s something she’s adept at, delivering good lines that deflect attention away from questions about her or Sinn Féin. Ross is very critical of her positions in defense of the IRA, but traveling around the North to commemorate dead bombers and shooting at gunmen’s coffins is clearly part of what is needed. must do to achieve the highest job.

More questionable is her decision to stick to Gerry Adams’ script as allegations of bullying, sexual abuse and its cover-up need to be addressed. Mary Lou became an advocate for what was causing her feminist headaches.

When others leave, McDonald’s stay, and stay loyal or stay buy. Those are the other people Ross depends on for insight into Mary Lou. We see a wealthy party tightly controlled by Adams; one that is not controversial or dissenting.

This raises big questions about McDonald’s leadership. Is she leading the party or is it still run by the famous ‘dark figures’ of west Belfast?

Although Ross doesn’t explicitly ask the question, he does provide some answers. Is she one of those shady characters – fully enrolled in the IRA’s violence normalization project?

It seems she is trusted to make decisions, although she still consults with Adams weekly to benefit from his ‘wisdom’. It could be the real Mary Lou. But the search continues.

‘Mary Lou McDonald: A Republican Quiz’, Shane Ross, Atlantic Books, €16.99 Shane Ross’s new book explores the questions at the heart of Mary Lou McDonald’s rise in Sinn Féin

Fry Electronics Team

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