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'Sisters are doin' it for themselves': Disco music heralds Sinn Féin into a new dawn

The new Sinn Féin leader knows she has to modernise the party to make it fit for purpose.

Now there was a time when they used to say
That behind every – great man.
There had to be a – great woman.
But in these times of change you know
That it’s no longer true.
So we’re comin’ out of the kitchen
‘Cause there’s somethin’ we forgot to say to you
Sisters are doin’ it for themselves.

THE WORDS OF Aretha Franklin and the Eurythmics. This was the song Sinn Féin chose to close their special Ard Fhéis with yesterday afternoon.

A tongue-in-cheek and humorous nod to the two women elected to take the helm of the party and drive it forward.

It wasn’t the only song the 2000-strong delegates were treated to in the RDS Hall in Dublin.

There was a rendition of Something Inside So Strong, Oró Sé Do Bheatha Bhaile and singer Ryan Sheridan even stopped in to play his well-known song, Jigsaw.

A mix of the old and the new. Perhaps the theme Sinn Féin was going for yesterday. Respect and remembrance of the past, but a recognition that the party needs to step into a modern future.

But some things will never change in the Sinn Féin party, with the traditional singing of Amhrán na bhFiann also ending the day’s events.

The new Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald and and deputy leader, Michelle O’Neill, the two women tasked with taking the lead, clasped hands as a rapturous applause erupted from the hall.

The pair, which Gerry Adams described as “brilliant, efficient women” earlier this week (likening them to RTÉ news anchors Keelin Shanley and Caitríona Perry while live on the Six One), were surrounded by their fellow party members on stage.

But there was one notable absence on stage. Gerry Adams.

A stark image to witness. A Sinn Féin party with no Adams. After 40 years in politics, Adams, a controversial, but significant political figure for decades, no longer at the centre of the action.

1 Mary_90536711 (1) Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald and deputy leader Michelle O'Neill

Yesterday’s limelight was indeed for the two women, though that didn’t stop the swarms of people surrounding the former leader, eager to get a selfie and perhaps an autograph as he made his way out of the hall.

Making his way through the media room, he beamed at reporters with a final, “Slán.” He did stop to shake a few people’s hands before swiftly exiting the main hall.

gerry adams 958_90536716 Gerry Adams poses for photos after the day's events.

A historic day for the Sinn Féin party.

But what next?

The new party leader set out what she wants in her speech: A need to “modernise” and adapt the party’s “approaches and structures” as it seeks to double in size.

Ambitious, but it’s something McDonald knows is crucial if she wants to become a realistic threat to Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

And do her members believe that will be a possibility one day? Short answer: Yes.

Displaying her Ard Fhéis pass from 1968, one Tyrone woman is ready for that shift.

“I think she’ll do great. Most definitely. It’s time for change and she’ll bring something different. It’s time for the young people,” she said.

Some question what those up the north make of a Dublin, middle-class career politician taking over as party leader, and wonder if she will be able to garner the same support Adams has. As a woman from the north herself, and someone deeply involved in the party, she said she has heard no such misgivings.

“Gerry has been great for the party, as was McGuinness, but I think she will do very well and will appeal to new group of people too,” she said.

Another supporter who had made her way to Dublin from Mayo said it was great to see a woman leading a political party, despite hearing about desire in some quarters for Pearse Doherty to be the successor.

In recent times, the party has been dogged by claims of bullying within Sinn Féin – something McDonald will have to take by the scruff of the neck if she wants her critics to take the “new” Sinn Féin seriously.

At grassroots level, members don’t shy away from the controversies with most noting that other parties also have internal disputes when asked about them.

“Our issue is that we probably grew too fast, faster than anyone thought, and with that issues can arise, and perhaps the structures weren’t in place to adequately deal with those problems, but I think it will be ironed out, eventually,” one party member told TheJournal.ie.

But, whatever the optimism, the party has serious challenges to face. Change within political organisations tends not to happen overnight, but in today’s climate, McDonald needs to work quickly. It will have to happen on her watch if she wants to move off the Opposition benches.

To deliver on ambitions for reform and modernisation to make Sinn Féin, in her own words, “into an organisation that is fit for purpose”, she is going to have to carve out a fresh way of doing things, and perhaps break from her party’s long-standing traditions.

McDonald’s Sinn Féin cannot behave as Adams’s did. Some say he, along with McGuinness, did what they needed during their time. On those traditions, they built a party and brought it through its adolescence. But if she wants to be Taoiseach Mary Lou McDonald will have to say goodbye to more than just Gerry Adams.

Read: Mary Lou McDonald is the new leader of Sinn Féin>

‘I trust women’: Sinn Féin says it will be ‘knocking on doors’ to repeal the Eighth Amendment>

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