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Standing ovation as McDonald takes Sinn Féin show on the road

Leader accuses Varadkar and Martin of ‘hiding’

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Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

It was standing room only in the Estuary Suite of the Rochestown Park Hotel for the first of Sinn Féin's post election public meetings.

The young stood up to give their seats to older people. Small children crawled around the floor.

Around 500 seats had been laid out for the event but there was probably another 300 people standing around the edges of the conference room. More chairs were brought in but there was still wasn't enough.

It was a diverse crowd and certainty not dominated by the young voters. It also wasn't very intimidating.

Mary Lou McDonald held a press conference before the event and hit out at Leo Varadkar for suggesting the series of meetings planned by her party was aimed at intimidating and bullying other parties.

There were plenty more jibes at Varadkar and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin during the meeting.

McDonald also revealed gardaí were aware of threats made against her, similar to those received by her party colleagues in the North.

Walking through the hotel to the conference room, she was asked what her entrance music would be. "I haven't thought of that, maybe 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star'," she replied.

Cork South Central's Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire kicked off the event. The local TD said he was reminded of a British Telecoms advertisement when he was preparing his speech.

"It's good to talk," he said as he insisted the meeting would be an "open dialogue between people who want change".

There was a lot of talk about change and even more about respecting democracy.

Ó Laoghaire noted that many of those in attendance would not agree with all of Sinn Féin's policies and said the party would not take their votes for granted.

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When McDonald entered the room she received a standing ovation as she made her way to the stage where she was joined by Eoin Ó Broin, Pearse Doherty and David Cullinane.

She noted the presence of local Sinn Féin TD Thomas Gould and even Solidarity TD Mick Barry.

"I don't think Micheál Martin is here and Leo Varadkar's not here either, he doesn't like public meetings," she added, getting the laugh she was looking for.

She said the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil leaders want people to cast their votes and then "hide behind walls". She wasn't doing that, she said.

McDonald insisted her party was the only one able to deliver change. The other two parties were berated for dismissing democracy - meaning the one in four people who voted for Sinn Féin.

It finally went to the floor for around 45 minutes of questions. The first was from a Waterford-based Sinn Féin councillor but the rest were from general punters. Housing, disability, mental health services and the Irish language were among the topics.

A man called Walter said he was "traditionally a Fine Gael voter" but had voted for Sinn Féin in the General Election.

Doherty said 3,000 people had joined the party in the last three weeks and another 4,000 were being processed.

During a lengthy contribution, Barry demanded Sinn Féin rule out going into Government with Fianna Fáil if they want his continued support. Ó Broin, rather than McDonald, answered the question noting how Sinn Féin forced Fianna Fáil to change their stance on water charges - and they planned to do the same on the retirement age.

A young woman intervened during McDonald's closing speech to detail her family's struggle with the housing crisis. And with that it was over.

McDonald concluded the meeting by saying "as Arnold Schwarzenegger says, we'll be back" and then the national anthem was sang.

Lot's of promises but it was still unclear how it will all be delivered.


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