Mary Lou McDonald takes the Sinn Fein reins, aims to unite Ireland

Mary Lou McDonald
Mary Lou McDonald, Photo credit: Getty

Mary Lou McDonald has been confirmed as the new president of Sinn Fein, taking over from Gerry Adams in a handover that could advance the nationalist party's ambition of governing on both sides of the Irish border.

The Saturday election of a woman from a younger generation, who had no direct involvement in the 30-year Northern Irish conflict, represents a considerable break with the past for the former political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

McDonald, 48, a Dublin-born politician from a middle-class background, was the only lawmaker to put her name forward to succeed Adams, who led the left-wing party since 1983, when the new leader was just 14 years of age.

"The war is over," McDonald told party members in a speech quoting American poet and civil rights champion Maya Angelou, and praised Adams as a "political giant".

McDonald, who was a member of the European Parliament from 2004-09, when she became Adams' deputy, wants to build on the progress made over the past two decades, since the Northern Irish troubles ended.

Adams, who has always denied being a member of the IRA, but for many was seen as the face of its bloody war against British rule brought to an end by a 1998 peace deal, is credited with transforming the party into a political force across the island it ultimately wants to unite.

Sinn Fein has shared power in the British province of Northern Ireland since 2007 and is in talks to restore devolved government there, but it has never governed in the Republic, where it has established itself as the third-largest party.

McDonald could oversee the party's return to power in Belfast as soon as next week and will seek to enter government at elections in the south, expected within the next 12 months.

Recent surveys suggest some sceptical voters would be more willing to vote for Sinn Fein under McDonald than Adams, who played a low key role on Saturday and did not address members.

Reuters