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Michelle O'Neill named as the new leader of Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland

The Tyrone native said that it is a “challenge” to follow in the footsteps of Martin McGuinness, but one she is “certainly up for”.

Updated at 7pm 

MICHELLE O’NEILL HAS been named as the new leader of Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland.

The party made the announcement this afternoon.

Her appointment comes after Martin McGuinness stood down as Deputy First Minister over the ‘cash for ash’ scandal, in which the First Minister Arlene Foster has become embroiled. McGuinness announced last week that, due to health reasons, he would not be contesting the upcoming election.

He stepped down from his executive role at the start of the month after the DUP’s Foster refused repeated calls for her to step aside while an investigation is carried out into the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme.

O’Neill has represented Mid Ulster in the north’s Assembly since 2007.

In 2011, she was appointed Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development. The 40-year-old was re-elected in 2016 and became Minister for Health.

“It’s a big honour for me to be chosen as the new leader in the north,” said the Tyrone native.

It really gives me immense pride to be able to say that I’m going to lead our party into the future. To follow in the footsteps of Martin McGuinness, who is a political giant, is no mean feat but a challenge that I’m certainly up for.

McGuinness said that they are both part of a “very strong Sinn Féin team” and he is “overjoyed” that O’Neill will lead the party into the next election.

“I knew she was made of strong stuff,” added McGuinness, describing O’Neill as a woman who could show great strength and great compassion. He said this is what led to her being appointed to a tough role as Minister for Health.

“She will have my fullest, wholehearted and dedicated support,” said McGuinness.

Her appointment comes after McGuinness’s departure set the North up for a new round of elections.

O’Neill said that McGuinness resigned “as a last resort”, describing the DUP’s Arlene Foster’s behaviour in the cash-for-ash scandal as “total disregard for the concerns and the outrage of the public”.

“These are challenging times and we have set ourselves some tough objectives,” added O’Neill, describing the party as able to rise to such challenges.

“I have never been afraid of challenge, and I have never been afraid to act,” she said.

She said that what the party is seeking is “equality and respect for all people” in the elections.

O’Neill said she will be working closely with the team in Leinster House in her new role.

Government response 

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Charlie Flanagan congratulated O’ Neill on her selection.

“This is a statement of the very high regard in which Michelle is held by her party colleagues and I am sure this is a very proud and special day for her and her family,” he said.

“I know that [my Government colleagues and I] share a sense of urgency in our determination to see the power-sharing institutions effectively functioning at Stormont once the election has taken place,” he added.

A key shared objective will be to work, together with the other political parties in Northern Ireland, to ensure that the full promise of the Good Friday Agreement and successor agreements are realised. This includes the prompt re-establishment of the devolved institutions, underpinned by genuine partnership and equality, following the current election campaign.
I look forward to continuing to work closely with Michelle in her new role. I believe we share the same determination to advance peace and stability in Northern Ireland for the benefit of all its people.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he wished to congratulate Michelle O’Neill on her new role.

“Her appointment comes at a critical time when it is ever more vital for us to work together North and South, to keep the peace process firmly on track,” a statement from Kenny said.

I wish Michelle every success in her new role and look forward to working with her and her colleagues, and all of the parties in Northern Ireland, to ensure the stability of the Good Friday Agreement and its institutions into the future.

Read: Next in line: Mary Lou talks McGuinness, great women and ‘cutting the crap’ in the North>

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