Mary Lou McDonald is facing fresh questions this weekend about the source of funds used to convert her family home into a 254sqm five-bedroom property over a decade ago.
A new biography of the Sinn Féin leader, Mary Lou McDonald: A Republican Riddle, by the former cabinet minister Shane Ross, examines in detail the conversion of McDonald’s family home on Cabra Road in Dublin 7 from a “small bungalow” bought for €517,000 in July 2010 into a “grand residence”.
The unauthorised biography, which is serialised in today’s Sunday Independent, draws on detailed interviews with dozens of people who know or did know McDonald, as well as extensive documents and research.
It provides the most detailed account to date of the background of the woman tipped by many to be the country’s next taoiseach.
Ross writes that, based on conversations with three experienced individuals in the building industry — all of whom insisted on anonymity — the conversion of McDonald’s home could have cost between €500,000 and €900,000.
The conversion was completed at a time when neither she nor her husband Martin Lanigan, a long-time employee of Gas Networks Ireland, would have been of considerable means.
Citing the original planning application (submitted in Lanigan’s name only) in 2010, the former transport minister writes: “The scale of the proposed increase in the size of the house was mind-boggling. It would be unrecognisable — effectively a new dwelling — when it was finished.
"It would no longer be a bungalow. It was going to have two storeys, five bedrooms, bathrooms to match, a living room, a dining hall, a family room, a kitchen, a study/meeting room and a playroom. It would need a completely new roof and it would be largely gutted internally. Covering 254sqm, it was almost three times the size of the average Irish house.”
The book points out that when she was an MEP, between 2004 and 2009, McDonald declared she was only paid the average industrial wage from her European Parliament salary — with the rest going to Sinn Féin and her constituency service.
Ross, who served with McDonald on the Dáil Public Accounts Committee, writes: “If Mary Lou is to become taoiseach, it is highly desirable that she sets out clearly the source of her sudden stroke of good fortune. It would put an end to the inevitable speculation about how the couple funded the conversions.”
The author notes that while there is “nothing to suggest that Mary Lou or her husband has ever been involved in anything untoward, or has been other than a person of impeccable financial integrity”, the opposition party leader “ruthlessly demands transparency of others” — and that on this issue there has been a “deafening silence”.
The book also provides a detailed account of McDonald’s previous membership of Fianna Fáil in west Dublin in the late 1990s, and includes a claim that the late former finance minister Brian Lenihan tried to convince her to remain in the party before she defected to Sinn Féin.
There is also insight into her father Patrick McDonald, a builder described as a “a loyal and loud Fianna Fáil supporter”, who had a number of financial difficulties and brushes with the law.