I'm not Gerry's puppet, says Mary Lou McDonald

New Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has insisted she is not a "puppet" for her predecessor Gerry Adams, after denying the former leader's influence means he is effectively still in charge of the party, writes Fiachra Ó Cionnaith.

Ms McDonald made the comments in her first media interviews since being officially elected, during which she separately said "the IRA has gone away" and confirmed TDs or Senators who vote against party abortion policy will face disciplinary action.

After an unbroken 35 years in charge which stemmed the darkest period of the Troubles and the peace process, on Saturday Gerry Adams was officially replaced by Mary Lou McDonald as Sinn Féin leader in a one-person race at a special ard fhéis at the RDS in Dublin.

While the move has been framed by Sinn Féin supporters as a key moment in the party's development, critics have said in reality Mr Adams is still in charge.

Asked about the claim in interviews on Sky News and RTE's The Week in Politics, Ms McDonald insisted that despite claims to the contrary she is now the leader of Sinn Féin.

Hitting out at the allegations Mr Adams will remain the power behind the throne due to his significant influence within Sinn Féin, she said she is not going to be a "puppet" for her predecessor and claimed some of the remarks have only been made because she is a woman.

"Are you seriously asking me that? Not at all," Ms McDonald told Sky News. "Gerry has led from the front for a very long time but I am the leader of Sinn Féin and I will lead.

“I’m not sure how really to interpret the remarks of those who say that I will be a puppet because anybody who knows me for any length of time may have their criticisms of me but they’ll be in no doubt that I am anybody’s puppet," she said.

Asked the same question on RTE's The Week in Politics programme, Ms McDonald added: "This mantra... the woman is the leader but not in charge. Is this some kind of puppetary commentary reserved for only women who are leaders?".

Ms McDonald made the remarks as she separately said her promotion from deputy leader to leader of Sinn Féin in an uncontested election is further proof the party is evolving from its republican and Troubles roots as "the IRA has gone away".

The new Sinn Féin leader - who claimed her party can double its 23 TD seats at the next general election and is open to coalition government, and who separately described Taoiseach Leo Varadkar as "smarmy" - also said she is in favour of unrestricted access to abortion up to 12 weeks pregnancy.

Asked on The Week in Politics if pro-life Sinn Féin TDs Peadar Toibin and Carol Nolan will face disciplinary action if they vote against 12 weeks in the Dáil should Sinn Féin changes its policy to support the potential new law, she said:

"I respect everybody's private conscience and private position, but I am saying this is a matter of public policy and as legislatures they do have to respect and uphold the [party policy] vote. And if they don't, we have to deal with that."

- Irish Examiner

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