MARY Lou McDonald declared that the “barbarians are through the gates” as she addressed a packed Sinn Féin rally in Dublin’s Liberty Hall last night.
Before she had even spoken, the Sinn Féin leader received two standing ovations from the crowd at Siptu HQ in the heart of her Dublin Central constituency.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s declaration that these rallies were the next phase in Sinn Féin’s campaign of “intimidation and bullying” appear to have served only to generate greater public interest in them.
Some 500 people had filled the auditorium and overflow area 15 minutes before proceedings got under way.
Such was the interest, Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty delivered an impromptu address to close to a hundred people outside the main entrance who could not get inside.
Inside, a clipboard was circulated seeking names, addresses, emails and phone numbers. This was as much as recruitment drive as it was a chance to sell the message.
Ms McDonald was accompanied by Mr Doherty, housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin, health spokeswoman Louise O’Reilly and deputy leader Michelle O’Neill.
“I hope Leo and the lads get over their allergy to public meetings. I saw somewhere a headline or a remark that ‘the barbarians are at the gates’. Newsflash: the barbarians are through the gates,” the party leader declared to rapturous applause.
Ms McDonald said a coalition of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil would be a deliberate attempt to “frustrate the change people want” and that her party, People Before Profit, the Greens, Social Democrats and “all others” committed to change “need to become more than the sum of our parts” and questioned whether Fianna Fáil would vote against any programme for government that is negotiated.
“Are they actually going to defy the express appetite and desire for change and put Fine Gael back into government? That’s a big question for them,” she said. Much of the event was devoted to an extensive question and answer session, where Sinn Féin’s team fielded queries on issues including pensions, housing, health, Irish unity direct democracy, adoption rights and immigration.
Mr Doherty said vulture funds should be “banned from buying up family homes”, while Mr Ó Broin insisted once again that Sinn Féin would freeze rents and deliver quality affordable housing. Ms O’Reilly said the health service could be fixed with political will.
Asked if Sinn Féin would take part in the ‘March for Real Change’ on March 7, Ms McDonald signalled it would not, and would instead focus on talks.
The rallies head north to Newry tonight, where the “government for change” message may be lost on some of those attending who, for now, live in a different jurisdiction.