Mary Lou McDonald: 'When some sense of normality resumes I'll treasure small moments all the more'

We asked influential Irish women what they have learned since the pandemic began. Here, Mary Lou McDonald, Leader of Sinn Fein, reflects on what she has personally taken from this period

The last ten weeks have turned everyone’s lives upside down in ways that would have previously been unimaginable. There are barely any aspects of daily life that remain untouched by the ‘new normal’ which we find ourselves faced with.

Many people's lives have been devastated by the loss of a loved one. Others on the frontline are bravely working exhausting days to keep us all safe. Many people feel a deep sense of uncertainty about what lies ahead in the future.

When I reflect on the lessons I have learned personally from this period, three things jump out.


Firstly, not to take the small things for granted.

Being able to meet up with friends for a chat over coffee, calling in to my mum for a catch-up or simply popping out to the shops. These were all part of everyday life before this crisis, but they now seem like unimaginable luxuries. When some sense of normality resumes I - and I think many of us - will treasure those moments all the more.

Secondly, how important community bonds are.

While this crisis has often been a time of darkness and despair, many moments of hope have shone through and shown us the very best of community spirit.

We have all been inspired and heartened by the many acts of kindness, solidarity and support that we have seen across the country. From neighbours dropping off food and a friendly hello to cocooning neighbours, to hundreds of people dancing on their balconies in Dublin flats to stay together while being apart. We have seen that determination and kindness can spur all of us on even at the darkest moments.


Thirdly and finally, that we need to get housing and health policy right.

The current emergency shows how starkly we need to reimagine and reshape our economy in ways that work for ordinary workers and families. If anyone wasn’t sure about the need for shelter being a human right before, they certainly will be now. It is much harder to follow the instruction to stay at home if you are at risk of domestic violence, if you are terrified of being evicted after losing your job, or if you live in a cramped flat with nowhere for your kids to play safely.

Across the country, many households' finances are at breaking point as people who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own are anxiously watching the bills mount up. We have also seen how important it is that people can access healthcare on an equal basis, rather than what they have in their wallet. Healthcare should always be available on an equal and fair basis, and we must use this opportunity to reimagine a fairer system.

There is still a long way to go until we defeat this virus and emerge from this crisis, but we all hope that will happen sooner than later.

Despite the challenges, we must stay the course and keep going.

We still have some way to go, but we will get there together.


Read more: Mary Robinson: 'Covid-19 will exacerbate the problems of inequality and conflict'

Read more: Amy Huberman: 'I’ve learned that we are resilient, despite the wobbles we feel'

The image newsletter