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Sinn Féin's replacement for Martin McGuinness set to be named. Here are the contenders

McGuinness says he’s looking towards a new generation.

Martin McGuinness steps down from elected politicsMcGuinness' political career has come to an end.Source: Niall Carson/PA Images

SINN FÉIN IS expected to announce its replacement for Martin McGuinness as the party's de facto leader in Northern Ireland later today.

Last week, McGuinness announced that he is stepping away from politics and will not seek re-election to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Sinn Féin has now said that it will make an announcement this afternoon and it is expected that the party will confirm who will lead them into the upcoming Stormont elections.

The party's choice would be their nomination for First Minister or Deputy First Minister should Sinn Féin enter government in the north.

In his statement confirming his departure, McGuinness said that he felt it was time for a "new generation of republicans" to lead Sinn Féin north of the border.

He said the party needed a new leader and promised his "full and undivided support" behind whoever that is.

While the identity of that person has not yet been confirmed, whoever is selected will certainly have a job of work to do in replacing McGuinness.

There are a number of contenders.

Michelle O'Neill 

michelle o'neill Michelle O'Neill speaking to Stormont last week alongside McGuinness. Source:

Since Sinn Féin pulled out of the executive, it's been difficult to ignore the prominence given to the party's Health Minister Michelle O'Neill and she is considered the favourite.

O'Neill was who Sinn Féin chose to confirm that they would not be nominating another Deputy First Minister to replace McGuinness.

In her speech, O'Neill paid tribute to "my friend Martin McGuinness" and said he "acted with integrity, with dignity and with respect" during the ten years in which he held the position.

Her choice as Sinn Féin's public face of their transition away from McGuinness did not go unnoticed with the media in Northern Ireland.

Acknowledging its own potential sexism, The Belfast Telegraph even went so far as to compare O'Neill's "resplendent" pink jacket with the "strident" dark suit employed by DUP First Minister Arlene Foster.

Source: Northern Ireland Assembly/YouTube

O'Neill was first elected as an MLA in 2007 and was a Mid Ulster constituency colleague of McGuinness until the latter transferred to his native Foyle.

In 2011, she earned her first ministerial role being appointed as Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development. She held that role until last year when she transferred to Health.

An outspoken progressive, O'Neill used her Stormont speech last week to accuse the DUP of displaying "a disrespect towards the LGBT community, towards women and towards ethnic minorities".

The choice of 40-year-old O'Neill would also certainly fit the mould of the new generation of republicans McGuinness has called for.

Conor Murphy

NI Executive crisis Conor Murphy stands before Gerry Kelly in the great hall of Stormont. Source: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Conor Murphy has been considered among the favourites to be Sinn Féin's leader in Stormont for some time, a fact which is perhaps both an advantage and disadvantage.

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A 53-year-old long-time republican, Murphy has been an MLA since the beginning of the executive and was an abstentionist MP before that.

Murphy first became involved in active republicanism during the 1981 IRA hunger strikes and was jailed for IRA membership and the possession of explosives.

Murphy was a respected negotiator during the peace process that preceded the Good Friday Agreement and has been perhaps the party's most visible presence in Stormont in recent years after McGuinness.

His selection would certainly please the party's core support and his republican credentials would perhaps balance the party's future Dáil leadership which seems destined to come from the post-Troubles era.

Source: AFP news agency/YouTube

John O'Dowd

If O'Neill is the progressive choice and Murphy is the more conservative one, perhaps Education Minister John O'Dowd is the happy medium.

To some extent, O'Dowd has served in the role before. He was Acting Deputy First Minister while McGuinness was campaigning as part of his presidential bid in 2011.

First elected as an MLA in 2003, O'Dowd has also served as chair of some of Stormont committees including the Public Accounts Committee.

A version of this article was published on 19 January.

Read: McGuinness resignation: The latest chapter in a remarkable political career >

In full: Martin McGuinness's statement on why he chose to step away from politics now >

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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