New Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald to seek border poll victory

Mary Lou McDonald said she wants a border poll. Picture by Niall Carson/PA Wire

FRESHLY-appointed Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald wants to secure and win a referendum on Irish unity.

Speaking as Gerry Adams's tenure as leader of Sinn Féin came to an end after more than three decades, the Dublin Central TD rejected the notion of a "32 county free state" saying she wanted a "new Ireland" where different cultures were respected and diversity embraced.

Mrs McDonald was officially ratified as the new Sinn Féin leader at a special party conference in the RDS in Dublin on Saturday afternoon.

Around 2,000 delegates gathered at the conference for the historic handing over of the presidency.

Mr Adams announced in November that he would be stepping aside after 34 years in the role.

In her first speech as the new party president, Mrs McDonald said she wanted to secure and win a border poll.

She said she wanted to achieve unity with "respect, graciousness and generosity".

"Irish unity cannot be a crude exercise of simply stitching north to south and returning to business as usual,"the Sinn Féin president said.

"We do not want a 32 county free state – we want a new Ireland, in which rights are guaranteed, cultures respected and the diversity of our identities embraced."

Mrs McDonald said that as a new generation takes the reins of Sinn Féin leadership it was now time to bring "innovative and modern ways of advancing our politics."

"Now is the time for fresh thinking and bold ideas to take us forward," she said.

"Our focus must be on building Sinn Féin into an organisation that is fit for purpose, and our purpose is to win, to win elections, to increase our political strength, to realise our ambition of being in government north and south, to win progressive political victories every single day – and ultimately to win Irish unity."

The Dublin Central TD warned that Brexit represents a real threat to the prosperity, economic, social and political life of Ireland.

"It fundamentally challenges 20 years of hard won progress," she said.

"There can be no imposition of a border on the island of Ireland – Ireland will not be the collateral damage in the political games and antics of Tories in London."

Referring to the political crisis at Stormont she insisted that Sinn Féin is "up for a deal".

"We are committed to real powersharing, to working for agreement with our unionist partners," she said.

"We want the assembly and executive up and running. This can only happen on the basis of equality, respect and integrity for all.

She said her party was "committed to a positive outcome" in the Stormont talks.

Paying tribute to her predecessor, Mrs McDonald said: "There would be no Good Friday Agreement, no peace process without Gerry Adams – my political mentor; an inspirational leader; a great friend.

"When others said it was impossible, Gerry Adams, along with Martin McGuinness, John Hume and indeed others, bravely walked the path to peace."

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