Dear Mary Lou,


From top: Mary Lou McDonald; Dr Rory Hearne

Tomorrow you continue the journey of history-making.

The decisions you, and your party, make in the coming months and years will determine if your Presidency of Sinn Fêin marks an important step towards an Ireland of social justice and an end to this failed Republic of corruption, inequality and continual crises – or if it marks a continuation of the status quo and another step on the road towards Sinn Féin becoming part of the Irish establishment.

I am writing this to you in an air of hope.

Myself and yourself have been part of many of the same campaigns over the last two decades – from protests in the 2000s against the Dublin Incinerator, for a Europe of social rights at the EU summit in Dublin in 2004, Shell to Sea, marches against the visit of war mongerer George Bush, and the campaign to Save St Luke’s Hospital in Rathgar.

To the 2010s when we marched against austerity, cuts to community and youth services, of course the historic water charges movement, and more recent housing crisis protests.

These were, and remain, movements of ordinary citizens – concerned with the state of their communities, their country and even the planet. Some ‘won’, some ‘lost’ – but I know that you are proud of your involvement in these, as I am.

I know you understand that these are the seeds of change – the grassroots so-called ordinary citizens in society. Many of your supporters were part of them and they were (and are) inspired by your involvement and championing of these issues. That is where your heart is.

But to the thorny difficult issues that I don’t think should be ignored on this historic day for you. Most importantly, the question of government and, coalition government specifically.

Before the last election you and your party signed up to, and advocated, the Right2Change policy principles that include the right to water, decent work, housing, health, debt justice, education, democratic reform, equality, a sustainable environment and national resources, that would form the basis for ‘a progressive Irish government.’

Your position at that point was to only go into government as a majority party. Your position has changed and you are now open to go in as a minority party. There are clearly different views within your party about whether to go into coalition or not with Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael.

But on the eve of this historic day for you, I would like to make the case to you that supporting a Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil lead government would be a major mistake, not just for Sinn Féin as a party, but also for the wider movement working towards progressive substantive change on this Island.

Of course you will ask, well what is the alternative to a coalition government with either FF or FG? Gerry Adams has asked where and who is the left alternative that could go with Sinn Féin?

Firstly, there are others, although currently small in number, like the Social Democrats, and independents. But we are in a period of political earthquakes and instability. New political forces can emerge quickly. Ireland is not immune from international political trends.

After the next election the broad left is likely to increase its numbers, not to be in a position to form a government, but parties like the Social Democrats and Sinn Féin will increase their seat representation. That means a larger opposition after the next election. A larger grouping to put forward alternative policies. That is, if you or the Soc Dems do not go into government.

There is little point Sinn Féin going into government as a minority party because that means – quite obviously – you have not received a public mandate for your policies. There is no point in the progressive Left being in government if it does not have popular support for its policies.

Otherwise they will just be continuously opposed by the media, the establishment, IBEC etc and undermined without the broad public backing necessary to respond to such attacks. All of us on the progressive broad ‘centre’ and ‘genuine’ Left have a job to do before we should countenance entering government.

And that is to convince a majority of the Irish people that our policies are the best ones that can guarantee them improved living standards and a decent quality of life – from affordable housing, to access to quality healthcare, secure and well-paid jobs, women’s rights, community services, well-funded infrastructure for a sustainable steady economy, reforming the EU etc.

Importantly also the social forces that can do play a big role in society – the social movements, the civil society NGOs, the trade unions, the community groups – they need to be supported to enable that process of citizen education and mobilisation for alternative policies.

The lessons of the Labour party, the Greens and every small left party that has entered coalition with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil should surely warn you away from such a coalition move. What real fundamental change did any of those parties achieve? Very little I would argue.

They would have been better to stay in opposition, build that popular support for their policies, become the main opposition and then, when they have the public majority support, enter government and deliver real change.

And so I would argue you should take the path Labour have never been brave enough or willing to take – stay in opposition.

Being in opposition is not an irrelevant political place to be. Your decision after the 2016 election not to go into government resulted in the current historic situation whereby Fianna Fáil are supporting a minority Fine Gael government.

This has meant the government is weak and open to legislation being proposed from the opposition, the citizen’s assembly, and even civil society. It has made the Oireachtas committees, and therefore our democracy, stronger. Imagine what you could do as the main opposition party?

But importantly, to go back to those grassroots campaigns I started with. They, and the communities they come from, many of the most deprived in this country, but also many middle class people, and increasingly the younger precarious and excluded generations –many of them are your supporters. What do they want you, and Sinn Fein, to do?

Their response to Labour in the last election shows what they do not want you to do. They want real genuine change.

They want politicians and political parties like Sinn Féin to stand up for them, for the excluded, for the voiceless, and not to prop up another conservative government and implement policies you previously opposed. Citizen trust in politics is at a low ebb. We have a fragile democracy.

Will your decisions result in further disenchantment and disillusionment or in an empowered and hopeful citizenry? Where will these people go if they no longer feel represented by a Sinn Fein that ends up defending the establishment?

Will your name sit along-side those like Joan Burton, Brendan Howlin, Alan Kelly, Pat Rabbitte and others who promised in 2011 to stand up for working people but after the election ended up hammering those they were supposed to represent?

Pat Rabittee’s words should haunt you – you will rememberwhat he said when challenged on reneging on pre-election promises – that they were just pre-election promises after all – made to be broken.

Or will you, Mary Lou McDonald, President of Sinn Féin, stand for something fundamentally different? Will you be the first female Taoiseach of a first broad progressive centre Left government in Ireland? Will you transform and grow your party and the wider Left and progressive civil society to become a real new politics in Ireland?

This is a time of possibilities. It is possible.

Are we at the dawn of a new Republic of Equality for all, or are we at the point of witnessing it being confined to the history book recordings of the 1916 Proclamation? You have a central role in determining the answer to this question – in determining this country’s path and its future.

You can shine the light on injustice –wherever it hides and crouches, carry the torch of hope, shake this tired corrupt establishment, and chart a road toward a real Republic of Equality, social justice and democracy. Dear Mary Lou, congratulations and good luck, but just please, don’t become them.

Dr Rory Hearne is a policy analyst, academic, social justice campaigner. He writes here in a personal capacity. Follow Rory on Twitter: @roryhearne

Top pic: Rollingnews

66 thoughts on “Dear Mary Lou,

  1. Dublin Bus Smoker

    Fair enough comment.

    However, Mary Lou was a Trinner’s student like Rory. Unlike Rory she was not a Students’ Union head. Unlike Rory she joined Fianna Fail.

    I think we know where the puck’s going, Rory….

  2. scottser

    stay in opposition? what utter nonsense, why would anyone enter their chosen field in order to stay in second place? besides, i think mary lou would actually make a grand taoiseach.

    1. ahjayzis

      Would you rather be second in command of a company, or the personal assistant and ass-wiper to the CEO?

  3. cian

    The combined FG + FF support has been consistently over 50% for the last two years[1], and has averaged over 50% since 2011.
    The SF support has been fairly consistent around 20% since 2011.

    So I can’t see them increasing their support much. Perhaps the change from Gerry to Mary Lou will help? But they have had a rocky 2018 with a number of ‘resignations’.

    Only time will tell.


  4. Steve


    What drivel is this? Reads like a North Korean pamphlet espousing the wonders of K-J Un. “Mary Lou was born at the top of a mountain during he first full moon”.

    But before my comment gets dismissed at trolling I’ll take up a few points.

    Firstly, this article comes across as an embarrassing diatribe against labour as opposed to anything pro SF. The writer sounds like he has real personal beef against labour. That’s fine. Just come out with it like.. but What have SF actually achieved when in power? NI has the worst homelessness rate in the UK.

    Labour being brave enough to stay in opposition? Labour has been in opposition for about 90% of the Irish state’s existence. What did that achieve ? A theocracy/ economic and social dark ages. We now have marriage equality . What have SF done apart from murder?

    Period of political instability / earthquakes is over. The time of crisis politicians is over in Ireland.. The centre has held and strengthened. That’s why the centre is improving in the polls. That’s why’s SF et al is flatlining. The Indos will be gone as a force in the next election.

    Yes she could shine a light on injustice. Lots of SF injustice over 40 years.

    And one more time.

    1. Aaaa

      Harsh delivery but a lot of fair points I think.

      “Importantly also the social forces that can do play a big role in society – the social movements, the civil society NGOs, the trade unions, the community groups – they need to be supported to enable that process of citizen education and mobilisation for alternative policies.”
      What’s the citizen education I wonder? That you should rely on the state for everything and whinge, complain and protest when you don’t get it?

    2. Scundered

      Any party that has a reputation for blowing up buildings, is not likely to help the homeless problem.

    3. david

      A party which cannot be honest with its murderous past cannot be taken seriously
      Even as we speak Gerry refuses to acknowledge his role in the ordering of killings
      They still refuse to reveal where victims are buried
      I listened to her version of the connections with the IRA and frankly you cannot be a mouth piece for terrorists without association with terror
      Lets face it the IRA’s victims skeleton lies in an unmarked grave for which Sinn feinn is the political wing
      Unlike all the skeleton’s of politicians of parties not representing terrorist organisations which hang in closets

    4. david

      Actually its time Sinn feinn took their seats in the UK parliament
      This goes way beyond kissing the queens bum area
      Its about representing your people
      Stormont will not happen simply because the unionists will not share power and if stormint resumes they have to share
      As well as that the republicans could use the green card
      Its time we realised we have no plan b and instead of kissing the queens bottom we now kiss the frau’s bum loch.
      History will judge varadkar as a head of a quisling regime as Ireland will fare very badly as Europe tries to shaft the UK
      Wait till we see the border between north and south and unification a distant dream
      What then Mary lou will your party return to the horrors of the past

      1. Otis Blue

        Not familiar with the specifics of their stance on immigration but would assume that it’s largely pro.

        As regards tax there isn’t the remotest prospect of their being able to implement their taxation policies in a coalition government.

        A wealth tax?

        Introduction of a third rate for earners over 100k?

        Changes to Corporation tax?

        Easy to talk about these things in opposition, but not palatable to the Irish voting public. If SF are willing to consider participation in a future Government, don’t expect to see any of these things implemented.

        1. ahjayzis

          As regards tax there isn’t the remotest prospect of their being able to implement their taxation policies in a coalition government.

          That was the entire point of the piece, chick x

          1. Otis Blue


            But the apparent willingness of SF to consider entering government with either FG or FF demonstrates that their position on these issues is open to compromise.

            Rhetoric is easy.

        2. Yep

          I would agree with you. I was just highlighting how they could be regarded as progressive left currently.

    1. david

      I say regressive from a party which cannot be honest with its past
      And regressive because of that parties association with a murderous bloody past
      Come on Mary lou accept your past and be honest as you cannot be trusted if not

  5. Jake38

    Shinners? “progressive”??

    intimidation, bullying, child sex abuse, Northern Bank withdrawals, kidnapping, etc etc.

    get a grip.

  6. Owen C

    Interesting. First time I’ve ever really seen one of their other left wing parties acknowledge that they ride along on the professional and well financed left wing coattails of SF to a certain degree. Having SF as a member of government is actually potentially horrific for the likes of PBP, SDs etc, at least short term. It positions them all as far far left and lacking coherent relevancy in the Dail (or on the streets potentially as well). Long term obviously they may be able to erode SF’s base on the basis of the attempt at a “mainstream pivot”.

  7. Clampers Outside!

    ” …coming months and years will determine if your Presidency of Sinn Fêin marks an important step towards an Ireland of social justice and an end to this failed Republic of corruption ”

    There ya have it.

    Ahern it would appear, thinks a political party that operates itself in an authoritarian manner – no election for top two positions – is “progressive” and is capable of carrying out justice.

    On no sorry, he said “social justice” which has nothing to do with justice. It is Sinn Fein, the party of Kangaroo Courts, which its new leader denied ever existed until SF documents showed her to be lying…. meanwhile those paedos and rapists went on to commit further heinous acts.

    Never forget.

    If you have revulsion for Bishops and priests moving paedos around the country, you should reserve that same revulsion for Mary Lou.

    1. Willie Banjo

      Clampers hates Shinners, Shinners (or at least Gerry Kelly) hates clampers. We live in a symmetrical world.

          1. some old queen

            Did ya hear the one about SF going into the estate agent business? They can move property like no one else.

            Bah da dum tish.

          2. italia'90

            Back in the day, my classmate’s mother, from west belfast, was a notorious shoplifter.
            She lifted High Street Woolworths 4ft off it’s foundations.
            Actual true story.

    2. qwerty123

      + 1 Clampers. Luckily economy doing better so the chances of them ever getting near power is diminishing.

    3. Scundered

      But where do you stand with Gerry Kelly removing a car clamp? this is what we all want to know.

  8. bisted

    …MaryLou should frame this letter and only hang it on the wall of the Taoiseach’s office…however I feel it will be Tanaiste for MaryLou…

  9. b

    God forbid we ever have to test some of these leftist policies with reality

    Looks like those who have carved out a nice career pissing into the tent don’t want to be caught in a sleeping bag with a faulty zip

    1. cian

      Do you mean like Shane Ross?
      One of the best Senators: He had an opinion on everything.
      One of the best opposition TDs ever: He opposed everything, with vim and vigour.

      And he’s been a Minister for 18 months. With a faulty zip ;-)

    2. ahjayzis

      Totes hun.

      A National Health Service free at the point of use can never work.

      Scandinavia is a nice theory, but those levels of taxes would create a communist hellscape.

      German housing policy is why they’re in a death spiral into debt and penury.

      I’m no Shinner and don’t really think of them as a left party, but your comment was so headbangingly, stroke-inducingly stupid I had to respond.

      1. b

        none of those policies are radically left, they can all be achieved in a centrist government and all the examples you’ve given exist in a well functioning economy that is also business friendly

        1. ahjayzis

          Not in Ireland. None of our centrist parties want an NHS, a third tax rate or to in any way reduce the price of housing. In Ireland these are radical policies.

  10. postmanpat

    All you have to do is look at the recent TV interviews with Adams and realize that the man is insane and has been for decades. You can see it in his face and body language. And that’s before he even opens his mouth talking about “meeting his maker” and you can see in his face that he actually believes in that nonsense. This is a so called leader that some people actually followed. You really have to think about the lives these people live, driving around in a tour band bus (without an actual band) and performing for their cheering super fans at the “sinn fein band” concerts weeks/ months / year after year. Their shops selling up-the-ra swag.? Committed to the peace process but haven’t gotten what they really want yet? They are like the Sons of Anarchy without the bikes. Living in their stupid fantasy world of brits-out. Some dopes join the party thinking they are a legitimate party only to find out they are actually just thugs and they that have to follow a strict party line. Normal people give them a wide birth in real life and they know it. They don’t care about water charges or fair social/society/whatever the boo boo. They will only be happy when the whole country north and south are sitting around, pissed , playing bodhrons. eating potatoes, drinking mead from the skulls of slain protestants, singing stupid rebel songs in Irish, the tongues of all English speakers cut out. dancing around murals of saint Gerry and Martin. Mary-Lou? Jesus! The mixture of bigotry and bred in hate and contempt is oozing out her pours. You just have to look at her. Her make up and hair dye look like it has to keep being re-applied every two hours to stop the black smoke escaping through the cracks. That gait? What’s under that coat Mary? It looks like a bunch of leprechauns are stuffed in there controlling a golum like magical talking demon head on a stick with a wig except the sunlight is weakening its power. Better get back indoors Mary, to a nice dank rally to recharge on the cheers and the Guinness farts.

  11. some old queen

    Trying to fit SF into international moulds of left and right will never work. They are a left wing nationalist party which may seem like a contradiction in terms but is common enough in countries which are ex colony. They are also the single biggest block to a right wing nationalist party emerging which IMO is a good thing.

    They will go into government because their agenda is wider than just ROI. Their goal is to shape policy in both jurisdictions and bring about Irish unity. As for been eaten up like the other smaller parties, that is possible but it will be a lot more difficult because they are seasoned political veterans and an influential part of their party is outside ROI.

    1. some old queen

      And just on the left wing nationalist party thing, albeit it more centre, would the SNP not be of the same template?

    2. postmanpat

      “an influential part of their party is outside ROI”. that’s the funny part The norn-iron branch doesn’t even pretend to like non-Catholics, or brown, yellow or black people for that matter. All you have to do is listen the horrible bigotry that regularly comes out Ulster SF politicians mouths to tell you what SF’s real philosophy is. They are the scum of the earth.

  12. nellyb

    agree with Rory. ‘Minorising’ wouldn’t do SF or the country much good. (I’d imagine) it would splinter supporters, push to extreme radicalisation and abandonment of political process all together. As is now, SF do keep the lid on certain tendencies among non-asseted and disenfranchised in RoI. Mind you, EU dropped the ball with us, believing that ruling coalitions of late have some kind of control over stability in the country. No they don’t, myopic fools moved on to economically marginalising layers of middle classes, its last refuge. The growing number of independents and small parties is a testament to it. These throwing about north korea and whatever metaphors must be living somewhere in underground bunker in Iowa. Dublin middle class, at least the bottom layer of it, are moving steady to the left, which is actually a centre by any type of standards.
    It is also bizarre, that quiet but sustained and targeted violence, inflicted on the country over generations by ‘Fine’ flavoured parties (- outsourcing state governance to church) is not considered violence, somehow.
    Why? There are dead bodies behind them ‘Fines’, I’d argue – more than SF amounted over the same period. Tuam alone would ‘settle’ the morbid score.

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