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Mary Lou says 'dominance of FF and FG is gone, but RTÉ has yet to catch up'

The Sinn Féin leader said that the party has “taken legal advice and will pursue that, but we shouldn’t have to go to court”.

Image: Sam Boal

SINN FÉIN LEADER Mary Lou McDonald has said that her party shouldn’t need to seek an injunction against RTÉ to be allowed to take place in its televised leaders’ debate.

A row has been rumbling on between Sinn Féin and the television stations over their exclusion of McDonald, whose party was just two percentage points behind the government party Fine Gael in the latest opinion poll (21% versus 23%).

Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke, the outgoing TD for Dublin Central criticised RTÉ and Virgin Media for their “two-party” approach to the televised debates.

“I think that politics has changed dramatically in recent years and it’s about to change dramatically again. The days of single-party government are gone, and the days of dominance of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are gone – although RTÉ has yet to catch up with that reality.”

When O’Rourke suggested that she was “playing the victim”, and asked whether they would pursue the matter in the courts, McDonald responded:

“I don’t regard myself as a victim, far from it. I’m the leader of a party which gives expression to the views and aspirations of people across this island.

We have taken legal advice and will pursue that, but we shouldn’t have to go to court [to seek an injunction].
Virgin Media is one thing, and they have made a decision that is deeply unfair and wrong, but [RTÉ] is the public service broadcaster, and has a particular obligation.

She said that there were parties “who wish to exclude us” and “squeeze out Sinn Féin”, by arguing that “we shouldn’t be in debates, we shouldn’t be in government, that we’re not fit for government”. 

“There is a realisation now that Sinn Féin ought to be heard”, she said, adding that hers and other smaller parties “don’t have the baggage of Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael”.

Fianna Fáil leader Mícheal Martin has said he would not like McDonald to take part in the leaders’ debate, saying this shouldn’t be decided on an opinion poll, while Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that he wouldn’t have a problem with it. 

“The only two parties that can lead a government in my view are Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil,” Martin said.

 The television stations have argued that the debate is to showcase who could become the next Taoiseach, which is why other party leaders haven’t been invited.

In response to a suggestion from O’Rourke that there was a “murkiness” around the IRA’s involvement in Sinn Féin, McDonald said “there’s no murkiness here, I am controlled by nobody, I am my own woman.

All of [these are] insinuations from people who want to keep us out of government… I am no different from any other political party leader.

“There’s nobody controlling me, pulling my strings,” she said. “This is the sound of people pulling desperately at anything to keep Sinn Féin on the sidelines.”

When asked on whether she believed that the former Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams when he said he was never in the IRA, McDonald said: “That’s Gerry’s position, and I support his position. Gerry is the expert on Gerry, not you or I.”

A number of people on Twitter criticised the questioning of McDonald on the party’s past, instead of it’s current policies on issues such as health and housing.

McDonald also spoke about her party’s call for reform of the Special Criminal Courts; her call for a border poll on Irish Unity and the provision of all-island services; her party’s offer of two free GP visits per year; and lowering the pension age back to 65.

Everyone aged 65 is entitled to their pension. The cost to bring it back to where it should be is €368 million. It’s the right thing to do.

She also spoke about increasing taxes on those earning above €140,000 a year, and her party’s opposition to carbon tax.

How do you justify levying a carbon tax on someone who lives in a very cold, very old house that they can’t afford to retrofit – explain the logic of that to me?

“How do you justify levying a carbon tax on people who have to drive their children to school or drive to work because there’s no public transport – how is that equitable or progressive?”

“You achieve only two things, you hike up the costs for them, and you don’t reduce emissions,” she said, calling it “passing the buck” to people “in a lazy way”.

She said that Sinn Féin councillor Paddy Holohan’s remarks were “unacceptable”: “When I saw those comments, to say that I was gobsmacked would be an understatement, I was deeply shocked.”

“The critical thing here, when these remarks came to my attention I moved speedily.”

McDonald said that her party aimed to retain its 22 Dáil seats, and would be looking to gain at least three more, mentioning Pádraig MacLochlainn in Donegal, Pauline Tully in Cavan-Monaghan, Paul Donnelly in Dublin West.

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