Belfast Telegraph

Michelle O'Neill to go head-to-head with O'Dowd in battle for Sinn Fein leadership

John O'Dowd sparks leadership battle with Michelle O'Neill.
John O'Dowd sparks leadership battle with Michelle O'Neill.
Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill

Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill has confirmed she will go head-to-head with John O'Dowd in a battle for the deputy leadership of the party.

Speaking on Saturday, Mrs O'Neill said she welcomed democratic debate within the party - and that she will therefore seek re-election at the Sinn Fein ard fheis in Londonderry in November 2019.

She was forced to make the statement after Upper Bann MLA John O'Dowd exclusively revealed to the Belfast Telegraph he is aiming to oust Mrs O'Neill as the party's vice-president. He is hoping to secure enough nominations before the vote takes place in November.

Michelle O'Neill said: "The Sinn Fein 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 [vice-president] of the party," she said.

If former Education Minister Mr O'Dowd is successful in his bid, he will automatically become the nominee for the deputy First Minister position if Stormont reconvenes.

Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O’Neill in conversation with John O’Dowd
Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O’Neill in conversation with John O’Dowd
John O’Dowd said he is seeking nominations from colleagues (PA)

However, a Sinn Fein insider believes that while Mr O'Dowd may pick up votes from some left-leaning delegates in the Republic, he realistically stands no chance against Mrs O'Neill.

When asked about his plans to enter the running for the deputy leader position, Mr O'Dowd told the Belfast Telegraph: "I can confirm that I am going forward (for the position) and right now I am speaking to fellow party members to secure nominations.

"I would prefer to talk to more party members first but I will release a more detailed statement at a later date."

The Lurgan man has been an MLA since 2003 and was the Education Minister from 2011 to 2016.

He briefly took on the duties as deputy First Minister in 2011, while the late Martin McGuinness ran in that year's Irish Presidential election.

Meanwhile, Mrs O'Neill succeeded Mr McGuinness as the leader of Sinn Fein for Northern Ireland in January 2017 and was first elected to the Assembly for the Mid-Ulster constituency in 2007.

Before becoming Sinn Fein's deputy leader under Mary Lou McDonald in February of last year, the Coalisland woman was the Health Minister from 2016 to 2017 and the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development for five years from 2011.

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