More than 250 party members, including local TDs Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, Jonathan O’Brien, and Pat Buckley, and several other TDs from around the country, attended a rally in the Rochestown Park Hotel as the first full day of the campaign ended.
Ms Ní Riada had just arrived back in Cork after taking part in a controversial radio debate held in Dublin earlier in the day.
Introducing Ms Ní Riada, Mary lou McDonald urged members to put their all into the campaign, saying that only they could deliver “a new president for a new Ireland”, the slogan that permeated the speeches during the event.
She said that the Ireland South MEP would not be a president for “official Ireland” but one for all the people of Ireland: “A president who will be the voice for the voiceless. A president who will never be seduced by the trappings of office. A president that can look beyond the walls of the Phoenix Park. The president who is first, foremost, and always a servant of the people and who works for all. A president that is a tenant, and not the lord of the manor. A president who does not revel in largesse, but who serves the public interest,” she said.
Ms Ní Riada delivered her stump speech alternately in Irish and English, touching on her background in the Múscraí Gaeltacht, her experience in Europe, and her goal to start a conversation on a united Ireland.
“My personal background has given me a deep appreciation of Ireland’s unique identity and culture and its place in the wider world, and a strong commitment to a united Ireland,” she said.
“We need a discussion about the future. We were told that the issue of abortion was taboo, but we did have a respectful debate and the Eighth Amendment is now gone. We had a respectful debate on marriage equality, and gay people can now get married. But the next great debate has to be and will be about Irish unity. We need to start that conversation, and that is going to be the centrepiece of my presidency,” she said.
There was plenty of excitement amongst local members to have one of their own running for president, including Michelle Shahid of Douglas, who said that the local party is “buzzing”.
“I definitely think she has a very good chance. She knows what she’s doing. She understands it. She’s not there just to show her face, and I’d have more confidence in somebody like that than someone just trying to get their face in the spotlight.
Blackrock’s Paul Daly shared her enthusiasm: “I’m very proud to have a Cork candidate in the race, especially one of the quality of Liadh Ní Riada. I think the Cork people and the general public will get behind her 100%,” he said.
He said that due to her background she would appeal to a broad audience.
“She represents the new Sinn Féin. Hopefully, she will have a great appeal to everyone — young and old, orange and green, catholic and protestant, LGBT. She’s inclusive of everyone,” he said.