Belfast Telegraph

McGuinness widow backs O’Neill for Sinn Fein leadership re-election over O'Dowd challenge

Martin McGuinness and wife Bernie
Martin McGuinness and wife Bernie
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

The widow of former Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has voiced her support for Michelle O'Neill as she faces a challenge for the party's vice-presidency from MLA John O'Dowd.

In a Facebook post, Ms O'Neill said she would be seeking re-election at the ard fheis in Derry in November.

She asked party members to "endorse my record by re-electing me to the position of Leas Uachtaran of the party".

Bernie McGuinness liked the post and commented "No better woman". Ms O'Neill was her husband's choice to replace him as Sinn Fein's Stormont leader in January 2017.

She had served as Health Minister and Agriculture Minister in the Executive.

Mr O'Dowd is a former Education Minister. He took over as acting Deputy First Minister for six weeks in 2011 when Mr McGuinness ran in the Irish presidential election.

His announcement in Saturday's Belfast Telegraph that he was challenging Ms O'Neill for the vice-presidency raised many eyebrows in a party not known for internal leadership contests.

Mr O'Dowd said he was speaking to fellow party members to secure nominations to enter the race. Sources said he made the decision to stand amidst grassroots dissatisfaction with the leadership's direction.

In response, Ms O'Neill said: "Sinn Fein is a democratic party and I welcome democratic debate and choice within the party.

"I will, therefore, seek re-election as Leas Uachtaran of our party at the forthcoming Ard Fheis in Derry in 2019."

She continued: "The Sinn Féin leadership is fully focused on the threat of Brexit across the whole island and safeguarding the peace and progress of the past 21 years.

"I am fully committed to this work and to building Sinn Fein as a national political movement for Irish Unity and an agreed Ireland.

"I will ask the party membership to endorse my record by re-electing me to the position of Leas Uachtaran of the party."

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