Monday 22 January 2018

Michelle O'Neill to succeed Martin McGuinness as Sinn Fein Northern Ireland leader

Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill. Photo: REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill. Photo: REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

Sinn Fein Health Minister Michelle O'Neill will succeed the retiring Martin McGuinness in leading the party's Stormont team, the party has announced.

She was largely considered the front runner when the long-time leader took a step back from politics due to his ailing health.

The party made the announcement this afternoon.

The 40-year-old Mid Ulster Assembly member takes over as the republican party's figurehead north of the Irish border weeks before a snap Assembly election.

Mr McGuinness's resignation as deputy first minister in protest at the Democratic Unionists' handling of a botched green energy scheme triggered the collapse of the powersharing administration.

The Sinn Fein veteran later announced he would not seek re-election due to his ongoing battle against a serious illness.

Ms O'Neill addressing the media today after the announcement said she was proud to be leading the party into the upcoming election.

She also paid tribute to her predecessor and said his decision to stand down, while a "last resort", was the right thing to do.

"I have worked with Marting McGuinness throughout all of my adult life... I have no doubt I am following in the footsteps of a political giant. The man is a legend," she said.

The retiring leader said he was "overjoyed" to have Ms O'Neill step into his old job and that she would have his "whole-hearted., dedicated support for as long as she has this job".

The new leader also used the announcement as a chance to have her own say on the cash-for-ash scandal which sparked Mr McGuinness's resignation as Deputy First Minister.

Ms O'Neill said that Arlene Foster's refusal to step down "shows a total disregard to concerns and outrage of the public".

Taoiseach Enda Kenny congratulated Michelle O'Neill on her appointment as the new leader of Sinn Féin in the Northern Ireland Assembly.  

"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," he 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."

More to follow...

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