Belfast Telegraph

Releasing SF deputy results 'nothing to do with media pressure'

Mary Lou McDonald
Mary Lou McDonald
Jonathan Bell

By Jonathan Bell

Michelle O'Neill has denied bowing to media pressure after Sinn Fein released the results of an internal contest for the position of its deputy presidency.

Ms O'Neill received 493 votes - 67% of the votes cast - to John O'Dowd's 241.

Danny Morrison, the former publicity director for Sinn Fein, revealed the figures yesterday.

In a Twitter post, he said a series of party members had been in contact over the result of the vice-presidential vote, taken at the party's ard fheis in Londonderry on Saturday.

Sinn Fein initially declined to disclose the figures, saying only that Ms O'Neill had won.

A statement said: "Having looked at the matter and contacted both candidates and the director of elections, we have taken the decision to release the figures."

In an interview yesterday, Michelle O'Neill said her party was not "embarrassed" into releasing the polling figures due to media scrutiny.

Ms O'Neill has described it as a "huge honour" that two-thirds of her party's membership chose to vote for her to hold on to her post after she was challenged by John O'Dowd.

Speaking to the BBC, Ms O'Neill argued that she believes her party is more democratic than others.

"I was selected by the grassroots," she said.

"I would argue very strongly that Sinn Fein are more democratic than most other parties. John and I were both part of the ard chomhairle who decided the rules around the contest."

Ms O'Neill said the contest was very much an internal one for Sinn Fein.

"The membership had the opportunity to engage with both myself and with John right throughout the contest. I spoke to people across the length and breadth of the country, as did John," she said.

"I often think it's fascinating to watch the media interest in all of this, but this was an internal contest in Sinn Fein for deputy president of Sinn Fein. We brought our message to the members of Sinn Fein, who have primacy in the debate, who ultimately had a vote in the debate.

"In a large movement like ourselves, people are going to have different views.

"I want to work with John O'Dowd and we have big politics ahead of us in terms of Brexit."

When asked whether the party was embarrassed into revealing the polling figures, Ms O'Neill replied: "Absolutely not.

"Ultimately for me I think the media are more fascinated by this than the Sinn Fein membership are.

"The membership of Sinn Fein are content - we had a process, we went through it."

The Belfast Telegraph reported in August how Mr O'Dowd was challenging Ms O'Neill for the party's Northern Ireland leadership - a move that surprised many given the party's ability to appear united and keep a lid on internal division.

Most senior members of the party backed Ms O'Neill, with Michelle Gildernew the only high-ranking figure to publicly back Mr O'Dowd.

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

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