“I’m a traditional Fine Gael voter, but I joined Sinn Féin last Wednesday,” one man told the room full of people gathered for Sinn Féin’s first public meeting in Cork tonight.
The room at the Rochestown Park Hotel, set out for 500 people, was full with standing room only as hundreds of people from Cork and beyond.
Some extra chairs appeared from a back room, but even they weren’t enough to seat the number of people who attended the party’s first in a series of public meetings.
Some in attendance have been members of Sinn Féin for years, while others were first time voters.
Sinn Féin’s top brass were all in attendance - housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin, finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty as well as Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson David Cullinane - led by their leader, Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald.
Cork South Central TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire opened the meeting to rapturous applause, while Mary Lou McDonald was the main speaker.
The party wanted to hear the views of the public on some of the main issues - including housing, Irish unity and Brexit - while also looking at the formation of a Government.
Mary Lou McDonald strongly rebuked what she described as the “hysterical overreaction of Leo Varadkar” surrounding the series of public meetings the party will hold across the country - the first of which took place tonight.
“I think his (Leo Varadkar) comments were way over the top. It’s obvious that the political establishment are struggling with the result of the election. I think they’re having difficulties coming to terms with it but that’s what they must do.
“I think for any reasonable or sensible person the suggestion that holding public meetings is somehow an affront to democracy is just ridiculous,” Ms McDonald said.
“We said to people that we needed a new type of government, a government of change. We needed a government that put people front and centre. This meeting...is the continuation of that conversation.
“I don’t think it’s wise that the election happens, people cast their vote, and the politicians disappear behind high walls and have discussions and leave people out. I think it’s much healthier to involve people, to report back to them, to take people’s questions, to listen to people’s ideas,” she added.
She spoke to those gathered about Sinn Féin’s determination to deliver “a government for change” and said it means among many things “a new Ireland, a United ireland.” Ms McDonald challenged Micheál Martin on his refusal to enter into negotiations with Sinn Féin, while being satisfied its speak with Fine Gael.
On Micheál Martin, who’s constituency tonight’s meeting was held in, Ms McDonald said to laughter and applause: “He’s made it clear that he doesn’t like Sinn Féin. I’ve made it abundantly clear that I don’t care what he thinks.” She went on to say: “The days of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael having it all their own way are over - not because I say so, not because Sinn Fein says so, but because the people have said so.” Ms McDonald said that while she respects the voters who voted for Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, it’s time that the other parties offer the same respect to people who voted for her party.
Pearse Doherty commented on the huge surge of people joining the party, with 3,000 having joined since the election, while he said thousands more are in the process of doing so.
Mick Barry, who voted for Mary Lou McDonald for Taoiseach last week, used the opportunity to launch an attack on Leo Varadkar - “the only intimidation and bullying I see, Leo Varadkar, is from the establishment.”