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Mary Lou is hoping to ride the crest of a wave of support all the way to the US this Patrick's Day

The party has never had much trouble in drumming up support in the States – though this year’s election result is likely to add to its publicity.
Mar 1st 2020, 11:30 AM 22,631 56

SINN FÉIN ARE riding on a crest of a wave after the general election, and they’re hoping it will carry on across the Atlantic for this year’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations. 

This week, the party held a number of rallies around the country. The turnout was so big, people were refused entry, while extra chairs had to be brought in to many venues. 

While Leo Varadkar said the events were a “campaign of intimidation and bullying”. Mary Lou McDonald dismissed the comments as “completely over the top” and accused him of “hysterical overreaction”. 

Reporters attending the public events said they were a lot like any other political gatherings, though notably, the numbers in attendance might be the envy of some parties. 

Ditto this morning’s opinion poll, which gives Sinn Féin at 15-point poll lead ahead of its nearest rivals

As St Patrick’s Day approaches, the party will be hoping to cash in on the momentum in Ireland, and will be eager to see if the Stateside reaction post-election has the same fanfare. 

It is no secret that the dream of a united Ireland animates many Irish Americans. The country has been intertwined in the peace process since the 1990s when US politicians Edward Kennedy, Tip O’Neill, Daniel Moynihan and Hugh Carey, helped persuade Bill Clinton to back the peace process and grant the then Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams a US visa. 

Support in the US

The truth is, the party has never had much trouble in drumming up support in the States – though this year’s election result is likely to add to the party’s publicity.

The party has much support in the States, through the Friends of Sinn Féin organisation which was established in 1995 in order to provide “an effective and efficient way for people in America to help Sinn Féin consolidate the peace process and achieve our aim of an independent, united Ireland”.

It can accept donations on behalf of the US-wing of the party. Last year, Irish Central reported that the party made history when Friends of Sinn Féin passed the $15 million fundraising mark with a sell-out dinner in Manhattan in New York. 

The former Sinn Féin president actually had the 17 March declared Gerry Adams Day by New York Mayor Bill De Blasio in 2017.

taoiseach-visits-united-states-of-america Bill de Blasio honours Gerry Adams in 2017. Source: PA

With Leo Varadkar in attendance, most likely having to bite his lip, the mayor said during the ceremony:

“He [Adams] understood there was no place in this world anymore for colonialism and he fought against it… great ideas never die. I want to honour him for pursuit of a goal that makes so much sense – a goal for a United Ireland.”

This year, similar to the Taoiseach’s itinerary, some Sinn Féin events will take place in New York, though McDonald is understood not to be travelling to the Big Apple.

Last year, she was criticised for posing beside an anti-English banner at the St Patrick’s Day parade in New York, which read: ‘England Get Out Of Ireland’.

The banner, or a variation of it, has been the only political banner allowed in the parade for decades.

Visit to the White House

The main events for the Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald will be in Washington DC this year. 

Often seen as a big fundraising drive for the party with their Irish-American base, there’s a busy itinerary for McDonald: meeting the diaspora, events with Irish-American trade groups and handshaking with politicos, a women in politics event, as well as the usual Shamrock ceremony in the White House and the Speaker’s lunch on Capitol Hill. 

taoiseach-visits-united-states-of-america President Donald Trump makes a speech during the Speaker's Lunch at Capitol Hill in Washington. Source: Niall Carson

But it wasn’t always this way. 

In 2018, to much surprise, the leaders of Sinn Féin and the DUP were not invited to the White House for traditional St Patrick’s Day reception.

At the time, McDonald said she was not fazed by not being invited to attend the White House, stating: “I don’t feel snubbed.”

Foster did not travel to Washington DC that year. 

‘Traitor’

Gerry Adams has been a regular guest at the White House in the past. However, one year he was refused entry.

“I was only in it once. The year that there was all the confusion about Gerry not being let in. I was standing there and I said I will wait with you Gerry. He said, ‘No, go on in’. I said, ‘No, I’ll wait with you,” she told TheJournal.ie in an interview in 2018

“We waited and waited. We met everybody on the way in, I was saying, ‘Hello congressman, hello senator.’ It was nearly finished, so Gerry said, ‘For the love of God, just go.’ I said: ‘Are you sure?’ He said yes. I walked off and I had literally taken three steps away and I heard him whisper: ‘Traitor.’ I didn’t live that one down, I was the deserter, I left him to fend for himself,” she said, laughing.

taoiseach-visits-united-states-of-america Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald, Gerry Adams and Michelle O'Neill attending the American Ireland Gala Fund dinner in Washington DC in 2018. Source: Niall Carson

This year the re-establishment of Stormont will most likely be the main attraction for US legislators. 

Just two years ago, at a special event to mark the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement in Washington DC, the major players behind the agreement urged modern-day leaders to “reflect on their responsibilities” to protect peace in Northern Ireland.

Former US President Bill Clinton as well as Senator George Mitchell, two of the key players in getting the peace process  over the line, said the anniversary was an opportunity to recommit to the agreement. 

Exactly three years after the collapse of Stormont, the institutions were re-established in January.

This year, First Minister of Northern Ireland Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, will be in attendance at the White House events. 

McDonald will also be attending, in what will be the first St Patrick’s Day celebration in Washington attended by all leaders since Stormont got back up and running. 

What might put a dampener of the events for Foster is that the report of the public inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive controversy will be published the day after the Shamrock Ceremony in the White House.

While the event will see old enemies circulating in the same room, it will also mean that Varadkar and McDonald will be rubbing shoulders with one another in the midst of the government formation talks back home.

Fine Gael has ruled out going into government with Sinn Féin. McDonald has said Varadkar’s party does not represent change.

TheJournal.ie’s political correspondent Christina Finn will be bringing you all the latest updates from Leo Varadkar’s visit to Washington this month, including his meeting with US President Donald Trump.

Stay up-to-date by following @christinaFinn8@TJ_Politics  and TheJournal.ie’s Facebook page.   

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Christina Finn

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