Sinn Fein announce Michelle O'Neill to replace Martin McGuinness' as leader in Northern Ireland

The relatively unknown Republican politician is to replace Martin McGuinness

Siobhan Fenton
Social Affairs Correspondent
Monday 23 January 2017 15:00 GMT
Sinn Fein: Who is new leader Michelle O'Neill?

Sinn Fein have announced Michelle O'Neill is to replace Martin McGuinness as the party's leader in Northern Ireland.

Mr McGuinness announced last week he is retiring from frontline politics, due to ongoing concerns about his health. Commenting on Ms O'Neill's selection by the party, he said he was "overjoyed" by the choice, and said she would have his "full support".

Ms O'Neill, 40, currently serves as Northern Ireland's minister for health, and will be the party's first female leader.

She represents the constituency of Mid Ulster at Stormont and is part of a new generation of Northern Irish politicians who have been elected in recent years. She has a relatively low profile in Northern Ireland compared to other politicians within the party. However, the recent collapse of power-sharing in the region has seen her take on a greater leadership role.

Ms O'Neill is more commonly associated with the socialist aspects of Sinn Fein than the Republican aspects, suggesting a potential change of direction for the party.

In a biography page listed on Sinn Fein's website, she is described as: "A formidable campaigner [championing] issues of equality, autism, disability, mental health and the rights of rural dwellers."

Following the announcement, Ms O'Neill said: "To lead our party in the North is truly the biggest honour and privilege of my life. I feel a huge amount of responsibility on my shoulders, and while I don't underestimate my task, given the changing political world locally, nationally and internationally, I will not let you down."

The all-island party has both a leader in the North and a party president, a position currently fulfilled by Gerry Adams who is a TD in the Dublin parliament.

Power-sharing collapsed for the first time in over a decade this month when Sinn Fein withdrew from the Stormont executive. The party were protesting what they described as "arrogance" from their power-sharing counterparts the Democratic Unionists, over how their leader Arlene Foster had handled allegations she was implicated in a major financial scandal.

The parliament will now officially dissolve and new elections will be held on 2 March in a bid to elect a new government willing to return to power-sharing.

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