Tuesday 27 June 2017

O'Neill coy on her coronation as new Sinn Féin leader

The selection of Ms O’Neill as the embodiment of a ‘new Sinn Féin’ in the North, has sparked much debate about the party’s election strategy. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
The selection of Ms O’Neill as the embodiment of a ‘new Sinn Féin’ in the North, has sparked much debate about the party’s election strategy. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

A few weeks before Christmas, rumours started to circulate that Martin McGuinness's health might force him to take a step back from politics.

It was unnerving speculation for many in Sinn Féin who found it difficult to see the future without the former IRA commander at the helm.

Reality began to hit though when Mr McGuinness pulled out of a trade mission to China with DUP first minister Arlene Foster - and it seems it was around this stage that the deputy first minister and Gerry Adams anointed Michelle O'Neill as the future of Sinn Féin.

The party's new leader in the North was incredibly coy about the process that led to her coronation when questioned on radio yesterday.

"The party has internal processes and we went through the Ard Chomhairle and the officer board and Martin and Gerry spoke to me and asked me to take on the position," she told RTÉ's Sean O'Rourke, offering little detail on the election process or whether there was even another contender.

"They talked about generational change and I think my new appointment now obviously signifies that. For me, it's a very important role, it's something that I'm going to run at very, very hard, it's something that I'm very, very passionate about," the Mid-Ulster MLA said.

The selection of Ms O'Neill as the embodiment of a 'new Sinn Féin' in the North, combined with Mary Lou McDonald's openness to be a junior coalition partner in the Republic, has sparked much debate about the party's election strategy.

However, the mother-of-two's family is steeped in IRA history. Her father Brendan was an IRA prisoner known for confrontations with prison officers at various stages in Crumlin Road Jail, Armagh Jail, Long Kesh and Magilligan.

A cousin, Tony Doris, was shot dead in an SAS ambush in 1991 and her uncle, Paul, is president of an organisation that raised funds for the republican movement in the US. Controversially, the Tyrone woman previously unveiled a plaque honouring Martin McCaughey, a known IRA operator.

At the ceremony, she said there was "a relentless loyalist campaign, funded and directed by the state, and which resulted in the murders of many of our activists, their family members and friends".

Asked about her family connections to the Troubles yesterday, she expressed "regret that the conflict happened".

"Obviously I do have a family background steeped in republican history and that's something I'm very proud of: my family and who I am and where I come from.

"I very much don't think that should define the future and who I am. That doesn't make me closed off to any one section of society. I'm somebody who lived through that, who has grown up through it."

On McCaughey, she said: "Yes, I did unveil a plaque to him in memory of a Sinn Féin councillor, a man that actually, again like many other republican leaders, that took us from a society that was in conflict for all the reasons which we're all aware of . . . but took us from a society and wanted to work towards a society coming from conflict into a society that was full of peace, and he, like many others, was part of that journey."

Asked whether she could work with Arlene Foster after the upcoming election, she said: "Yes, I can work with anybody. It's just the nature of the person that I am."

Irish Independent

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