cordial letters | 

Mary Lou McDonald reveals she is pen-pals with King Charles and says Britain should fund Irish unity

After they both contracted Covid, the then-prince wrote to her. She responded, and they are now “very cordial” pen pals

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald. PA© PA

Emma MontgomeryBelfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald has revealed she has become ‘pen pals’ with King Charles.

She says they have shared a number of “very cordial” letters, including writing to each other when they each had Covid.

She also recalled hearing Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams speak in the 90s and thinking they had a “plan for peace”, which spurred her into joining Sinn Fein.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Sunday Times, Ms McDonald explained why she wants Britain to help pay for Irish reunification.

Ms McDonald revealed that she liked the future King Charles after meeting him in 2018.

“I like him very much, and I found him very interesting and very interested,” she told The Sunday Times.

After they both contracted Covid in 2020, the then-prince wrote to her. She responded, and they are now “very cordial” pen pals.

She also wrote to express her sympathies following the deaths of both the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.

She had apologised for the IRA assassination of Lord Mountbatten the day after Prince Philip’s funeral.

In the interview, Ms McDonald touched on the issue of who should pay for reunification – a Belfast Telegraph-Kantar poll in May 2021 showed that just 22% of the voters in the Republic would be willing to pay for it through higher taxation.

While she believes it could be funded in part by high taxes, she feels reunification could also be partly funded by Britain.

“We need to talk to the British exchequer. I would look for a commitment from them. Not in perpetuity. We don’t want to be reliant on others to fund our economy,” she said.

“We don’t need to be. Look at the southern economy — it’s modern, it’s dynamic. It can reimagine itself and reshape itself. That can happen in the north as well.”

When asked about a time frame for British financial help for a newly-formed united Ireland, she said she wouldn’t give a figure but said that pensions needed to be considered

“Let’s be practical, they will have a pension commitment to people who have pensions. That will have to be met,” she said.

She also talked about what moved her to join Sinn Fein.

“I found them [Sinn Fein] in the 1990s …through a lot of things, and meeting people, and thinking about things,” she said.

At one meeting, she heard Mr Adams and Mr McGuinness speak and thought: “These guys have a plan for peace, politics, change and unity. They have their act together. It’s the moment where Ireland is moving from conflict to peace.”

She said the IRA hunger strikes in 1981 had a “huge impact” on her as an 11-year old and remembered there being “upset in the family at the time.”

Lastly, she opened up about her relationship with Mr Adams, her predecessor as Sinn Fein leader.

“I really like Gerry, we’re on very good terms,” she said.

“Certainly it wouldn’t be weekly, but I suppose every couple of weeks I’d be in touch with him. If I needed to talk to him, I can always lift the phone.”

Mary Ms Lou McDonald also denied that her reputation has been damaged following the involvement of former Sinn Fein councillor Jonathan Dowdall in a gangland murder trial.

Dowdall was jailed for four years in October after he pleaded guilty to facilitating the murder of David Byrne at the Regency Hotel in 2016.

She added: “Anybody who knows me at all would know that my tolerance for anything associated with gangland is zero. Had I known that Jonathan Dowdall would be capable of going on to do the things that we know he did, or the things that he is now alleged to have done, he wouldn’t have been anywhere near me.”

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