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Michelle O Neill survives challenge to role as Sinn Fein vice president

Party delegates attending Ard Fheis in Londonderry on Friday and Saturday cast their ballots over the two days.


Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O’Neill (Brian Lawless/PA)

Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O’Neill (Brian Lawless/PA)

Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O’Neill (Brian Lawless/PA)

Michelle O’Neill has retained her position in Sinn Fein after winning a ballot against party colleague John O’Dowd.

Former Stormont education minister Mr O’Dowd signalled his ambition to replace Ms O’Neill in the senior leadership role in August.

Party delegates attending Ard Fheis in Londonderry on Friday and Saturday cast their ballots over the two days, with the winner announced on Saturday evening.

Welcoming the endorsement, Ms O’Neill said: “I am really honoured to have been endorsed by the membership of Sinn Fein and re-elected to the position of Leas-Uachtaran.

“I am thankful to delegates and members across Ireland who voted for me in this contest.

“The contest was conducted in a very comradely way across the party where John O’Dowd and I campaigned internally and put forward our platform and vision to the Sinn Fein membership.

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“John is a longstanding republican and a highly regarded colleague and I very much value his political contribution and friendship.

“We are both committed to advancing our party, so that we are fit for purpose as a political movement now and in the future.

“Working alongside Mary Lou McDonald and our senior team I want to maximise the positive growth and development of the party across Ireland.

“It’s our ambition to drive a progressive political agenda for change across Ireland.

“I look forward to continuing this important work in my role as Sinn Fein vice-president.”


John O’Dowd (Liam McBurney/PA)

John O’Dowd (Liam McBurney/PA)

PA Wire/PA Images

John O’Dowd (Liam McBurney/PA)

Since Mr O’Dowd’s announcement, both candidates had been given access to the full party membership list and campaigned enthusiastically for the position.

Ms O’Neill became vice president in January 2018 when her predecessor, Mary Lou McDonald, succeeded the retiring Gerry Adams as president.

A year earlier, Mrs O’Neill was appointed the party’s Stormont leader after the late Martin McGuinness stood down on health grounds.

The move from Mr O’Dowd came in the wake of the party’s poor performance in the European and local council elections south of the border in May.

Sinn Fein lost two of its four MEPs and around half of its councillors.

The play for the role by Mr O’Dowd had been seen by some as controversial for the party, who do not usually experience challenges for already-filled positions.

Sources in the party, speaking to PA Media Group, said that there was little doubt that Ms O’Neill would carry on in the role, despite the challenge, but most welcomed the ability to choose.

Most representatives had not publicised who they would be supporting in the challenge ahead of the ballot.

Pearse Doherty refused to say on Tuesday who he would support on the ballot, but said the candidate is confident in the knowledge they have his support.

Previously, Michelle Gildernew, MP for Fermanagh, publicly backed Mr O’Dowd and Kathleen Funchion, TD for Carlow and Kilkenny, confirmed she was be backing Ms O’Neill.

More than 2,000 party members debated 166 motions at the party conference, looking at all policy areas, including planning for Irish reunification, large-scale public housing, measures to reduce rent, the climate emergency and insurance premiums.

President of Irish Congress of Trade Unions Gerry Murphy addressed the delegates as well as representatives from Palestine and Cuba.

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