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Mary Lou McDonald captured the mood for change

Martina Devlin


SF leader has made her party mainstream against the odds

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Party tricks: Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald juggles with oranges in Dublin yesterday as colleagues look on. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters

Party tricks: Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald juggles with oranges in Dublin yesterday as colleagues look on. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters

REUTERS

Party tricks: Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald juggles with oranges in Dublin yesterday as colleagues look on. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters

There has never been a female Taoiseach - in a century, not a whisper of it. Just let that settle for a moment. We've had a number of women as tánaiste, but male leadership of the Irish State has appeared to be a permanent arrangement.

Now the lie of the land has upended. The Taoiseach automatically being a man looks like a rather more temporary idea. Mary Lou McDonald has achieved what no female party leader has done before in Ireland - she has muscled into the two-party boys' club and told them to budge up because they can't have it all their own way any longer.

Change can be a slow fuse or it can kindle and catch fire in a heartbeat. Here, we're looking at a sudden transformation of the political landscape. If Sinn Féin had run more candidates, Ms McDonald would be in the shake-up for Taoiseach. Even so, could she be one of two rotating Taoisigh? It's all to play for once negotiations begin.