Belfast Telegraph

O’Neill says she has no issues with O’Dowd challenging her for top job


Challenge: Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O’Neill and rival John O’Dowd
Challenge: Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O’Neill and rival John O’Dowd
Ralph Hewitt

By Ralph Hewitt

Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill has confirmed she will face-off against John O'Dowd for the deputy leadership of the party.

The Mid Ulster MLA made the statement on Saturday after the Belfast Telegraph exclusively revealed that Mr O'Dowd was aiming to oust the former Health Minister as the party's vice-president.

Mrs O'Neill said that Sinn Fein is a democratic party and she welcomed "debate and choice" among its members.

The vote will take place at the party's ard fheis in Londonderry in November.

"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," she said.

"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."

Mr O'Dowd confirmed that he was hoping to secure enough nominations from party members before the vote takes place.

If the former Education Minister is successful in his bid, he will automatically become the nominee for the Deputy First Minister position if Stormont reconvenes.

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 leadership position, Mr O'Dowd said: "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 in Upper Bann since 2003 and was the Education Minister from 2011 to 2016.

He briefly took on the duties of 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 at Stormont 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 Clonoe 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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