Sinn Féin names Health Minister O’Neill as its leader in North
Michelle O’Neill has been named as the new leader of Sinn Féin, replacing Martin McGuinness who announced he was stepping away from politics due to ill health.
Ms O’Neill, 40, could become Deputy First Minister or even First Minister of Northern Ireland depending on how well her party does at the polls on 2 March.
The outgoing health minister is the first Sinn Féin leader not to have a direct IRA past and her appointment represents a generational change at the top of the party. Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said she was the right person to take them forward and promised her his full backing.
“As a united all-Ireland team, we will give her the space and support to find her own voice and continue the good work Martin pioneered,” he said.
Ms O’Neill described the role as a “huge honour” and a “big privilege” and added that she was up to the challenge and “not afraid to act”. She paid tribute to her predecessor, describing him as “a political giant”, while Mr McGuinness returned the favour stating that he was delighted with her appointment.
Mr McGuinness announced last week that he would not be standing in the Stormont elections because of illness. He had previously stepped down from his position as Deputy First Minister over then-First Minister Arlene Foster’s role in the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal.
The Derry-born Republican suffers from a rare condition which affects the central nervous system as well as a number of vital organs. Well-wishers and supporters have paid tribute to the 66-year-old and they will be pleased to hear his response when asked about a possible return to politics.
Invoking Mr Adams’ own infamous remark about the state of the IRA in the mid-1990s, he replied: “I haven’t gone away, you know.”
Charles Flanagan, the Irish Foreign Minister, praised Ms O’Neill and said he believed they shared the same ideals about what they want to achieve in the Six Counties.
“I believe we share the same determination to advance peace and stability in Northern Ireland for the benefit of all its people,” he said.