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Michelle O'Neill faces challenge to her role as MLA bids for Sinn Féin deputy leadership

O’Neill became vice president of Sinn Fein in January 2018.

Image: PA Wire/PA Images

SINN FÉIN’S MICHELLE O’Neill is facing a challenge for her job at the party’s Ard Fheis this weekend.

MLA for Upper Bann John O’Dowd, who has been a member of Sinn Féin for over 30 years, is contesting her seat.

More than 2,000 party members will have their say on who should be the vice-president of the party, with the result being announced on Saturday evening ahead of Sinn Féin party leader Mary Lou McDonald’s address at the party conference.

O’Neill became vice president in January 2018 when McDonald succeeded the retiring Gerry Adams as president.

The party has faced some criticism for not holding hustings in the competition. 

MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone Michelle Gildernew told reporters yesterday that a  decision was taken not to hold hustings as members were busy campaigning for by-elections and elections in the North.

Donegal TD Pearse Doherty said the rules of how such a competition would be handled by the party was agreed two years ago at previous party conference, well before this contest, stating that they set out that no hustings will take place.

Both party members denied that O’Dowd was not getting a fair opportunity to contest the party’s vice-presidency.

“Believe you me, both candidates are engaging in a campaign,” said Doherty, who added that party members are being lobbied by both candidates for their vote.

He said a campaign is very much underway, but would not be drawn on who he is backing in the race.

Doherty said his preferred candidate is confident in the knowledge they have his support.

Gildernew has already publicly backed O’Dowd and reaffirmed her position yesterday. She added that competition in the party is “healthy”. 

Kathleen Funchion, TD for Carlow and Kilkenny, confirmed she will be backing O’Neill.

Doherty added that both candidates have been given access to the full list of party members and have both been campaigning intensely.

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