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Mary Lou sticks to SF heartlands as she tries to brush off the shadows of the past

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On the trail: Mary Lou McDonald meets amember of the public while campaigning in Dublin. Photo: Reuters

On the trail: Mary Lou McDonald meets amember of the public while campaigning in Dublin. Photo: Reuters

REUTERS

On the trail: Mary Lou McDonald meets amember of the public while campaigning in Dublin. Photo: Reuters

It's not often a Swiss TV crew joins Mary Lou McDonald for a canvass in Dublin, but then it's not often that Sinn Féin has led in an opinion poll just days out from a general election.

The crew from SRF were waiting for Ms McDonald when she arrived in Finglas to campaign with veteran Sinn Féin TD Dessie Ellis.

Ms McDonald was sticking to Sinn Féin heartlands ahead of last night's TV clash with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Fianna Fáil's Micheál Martin.

She had just come from Ringsend where the party is hoping former Fianna Fáil TD Chris Andrews will pick up a seat in the notoriously competitive Dublin Bay South.

She was asked by reporters there if she was surprised by the poll that saw Sinn Féin support surge to 25pc - ahead of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. As she was answering someone yelled: "Go on the Shinners, go on."

"I think we're OK for a vote there," Ms McDonald said.

So what of the result of the 'Irish Times'/Ipsos MRBI poll?

Ms McDonald said people she's met on the campaign trail want change "so I'm not hugely surprised by that".

She claims Sinn Féin is "the obvious vehicle for change" and "there isn't a whit of difference really between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael".

Her canvass in Dublin came the morning after Breege Quinn, the mother of murdered 21-year-old Paul Quinn, urged people to remember her son when they are voting.

An IRA gang is believed to be behind the brutal killing of the young man in Monaghan.

Ms McDonald said Mr Quinn's killing was "horrendous" and those who did it are criminals.

She brushed aside a question on whether she's worried that issues of the past will damage the campaign, saying "the appetite across the island is very much about building the future.

"That's not to deny the pain and hurt of the past. I'm very aware of that.

"But I think people who constantly reach for the past in a selective way to damage others or to score a political point - that's not where people are at."

When it comes to shadows of the past, Sinn Féin's candidate in Dublin North-West, Mr Ellis, was an IRA member and explosives expert who was sentenced to a 10-year jail term in the 1980s.

Ms McDonald ignored a question on whether he is the kind of candidate that puts people off Sinn Féin.

It came at the end of a canvass that lasted all of 10 minutes.

During that time, Ms McDonald met striking TUI teachers at Coláiste Íde telling them it's "completely unfair" that younger teachers have lower pay for equal work.

"Don't lose heart," she told them before posing for a photo with the placards and moving on.

The few people she did meet, she urged to get to the polling stations.

"Hello ladies, Mary Lou, nice to see you. Come out and vote won't you?" she said to prospective voters.

Sinn Féin has traditionally underperformed compared to opinion polls due to lower turnout among supporters.

And while the increase in the party's support would suggest Mr Ellis is safe, Dublin North-West is a hotly contested three-seat constituency.

The outgoing TDs, including Mr Ellis, Róisín Shortall of the Social Democrats and Fine Gael's Noel Rock, are batting off a challenge by Fianna Fáil Lord Mayor Paul McAuliffe.

As the brief canvass wrapped up, Ms McDonald was approached by local man Gary Murray whose wife Fiona Prendergast died from cervical cancer in 2015 aged just 35.

He tells the Sinn Féin leader mistakes were made in his wife's care and opportunities to diagnose the mother-of-four's cancer were missed.

"You have my vote because I know you're going to do great," Mr Murray says.

Ms McDonald recalled one of the things she'd said during the CervicalCheck scandal is that "screening saves lives".

But she told Mr Murray: "I know this isn't what happened in your life, with your beautiful wife."

She said Sinn Féin wants to bring the labs that carry out the screening tests back to Ireland.

Ms McDonald hugged Mr Murray and with that she was off, telling her team: "OK lads keep at it. I've to go and get ready for this debate now."

Irish Independent