Northern Ireland

Mary Lou McDonald hails Sinn Féin election success and calls for Downing Street to embrace constitutional change

Sinn Féin fares much better north of the border than it did in last month’s elections in the Republic

Newly-elected Sinn Féin MP for Mid Ulster Cathal Mallaghan with Michelle O'Neill and Mary Lou McDonald. PICTURE: NIALL CARSON/PA (Niall Carson/Niall Carson/PA Wire)

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has pledged to “build a constructive relationship” with the new Labour administration in Britain but has stressed the need for Sir Keir Starmer’s government to embrace “the right to self-determination and constitutional change”.

The Sinn Féin president was speaking in the wake of successful performance by her party in the Westminster election, in which it held all its seven seats and increased its vote share by more than four points to 27%.

The party’s fortunes were in direct contrast to its main unionist rival. The DUP’s vote share fell by 8.5 points to 22.1%, while it lost three of its eight seats and came close to losing a fourth in East Derry.

Sinn Féin also fared considerably better in the Westminster poll than it did in last month’s European and local government elections in the Republic, when just months after polling strongly it secured a disappointing 11.1% and 11.8% vote share, respectively.

The party has now completed a ‘hat-trick’ - coming out top in the last Stormont, local government and Westminster elections.

Irish News columnist Chris Donnelly said the scale of party’s success was a “firm indication” that the wider nationalist community was supportive Sinn Féin’s approach to the restoration of devolution, its dealings with the DUP and British government, as well as the “consistent focus upon the necessity of planning and preparing for a border poll in the medium term”.

“The party hit every conceivable target in this election – they comfortably won all seven seats, established a new marginal in East Derry and narrowed the gap in Foyle, both of which will be key priorities next time,” he said.

Chris Donnelly low res
Irish News columnist Chris Donnelly

The one-time Sinn Féin election candidate said the strength of Thursday’s performance would be “very welcome news for the leadership and activists” following the disappointment of last month’s southern elections.

“There will be a sense that the train is back on the track now and the focus will very much be on recapturing lost support ahead of the Dáil elections so that the party may yet be in the mix to form part of the next coalition government.”

Speaking in Belfast, Ms McDonald said her party would “work for all” across the region to improve public services and people’s livelihoods.

“The Westminster election represents a significant victory for Labour, creating a major opportunity to improve relations between Britain and Ireland,” she said.

“”Sinn Féin is determined to build a constructive relationship with the new Labour government. We look forward to working positively with British Prime Minister Keir Starmer on the many shared priorities for Ireland and Britain during this historic time of renewal.”

The Sinn Féin leader said the new Labour government presented a “huge opportunity to reset relations with the Irish government and the power-sharing executive”.

“We expect the new prime minister to uphold the Good Friday Agreement, which Labour helped deliver, ensuring its political, legal, and constitutional guarantees are respected,” she said.

“This includes respecting all our national identities, political allegiances, and working together to defend peace and build on reconciliation efforts. The British government must embrace principles of rigorous impartiality, and the right to self-determination and constitutional change toward Irish reunification.”

Ms McDonald also urged the new Downing Street administration to repeal the Tories’ controversial legacy legislation and invest in public services and infrastructure.

She said she also expected “early delivery of the funding” for Casement Park.