Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein MP backs O'Dowd in party leadership battle with O'Neill

Sinn Fein will 'look positively' at election pacts for general election, says Michelle O'Neill

Sinn Fein leader Michelle O’Neill with Michelle Gildernew.
Sinn Fein leader Michelle O’Neill with Michelle Gildernew.

Sinn Fein MP Michelle Gildernew has backed John O'Dowd to replace Michelle O'Neill as the party's leader in Northern Ireland.

She said the Upper Bann MLA had the "skillset for the next phase of the struggle for Irish freedom and bringing about an Ireland of equals".

"That's no disrespect at all to Michelle who I have worked really well with and have an awful lot of time for," she told the BBC.

In an interview for the The View programme, the Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP said change was needed in the party.

Referring to recent "disappointment" in elections  for the party she said such an open contest would allow debate on the leadership and prove to the grassroots of party members the leadership did not take them for granted.

"The fact we are having this competition is healthy," she said.

Ms Gildernew is the most senior figure yet in the party to voice their support for Mr O'Dowd.

MEP Martina Anderson and MLA Gerry Kelly have thrown their support behind Michelle O'Neill , among others.

Michelle O'Neill has welcomed the challenge and party president Mary Lou McDonald said it was nothing out of the ordinary as the party was open and democratic.

John O'Dowd has yet to speak since confirming his intention. The party will decide on the matter at its November ard fheis.

Meanwhile Ms O'Neill has again opened the door for pro-remain election pacts in the anticipated general election.

She said an agreement could oust the DUP from its three Belfast constituencies.

“The pending Westminster election comes at a time of exceptional political crisis and unprecedented economic threat driven by the disastrous Brexit project," the MLA said.

“The DUP are cheer leaders for that project.

“We have a unique opportunity to democratically reject that disastrous agenda and once again show Dublin, London, Europe and the world that the DUP do not speak for the majority.

“Remain candidates could unseat DUP Brexiteers in North, South and East Belfast. Returning remain MPs in all four Belfast constituencies would send a powerful message that we reject the DUP/Tory Brexit.

“I am contacting the other pro-Remain parties to discuss how we can best maximise the pro-Remain result and unseat Brexiteer DUP MPs.”

On Wednesday, both the SDLP and Alliance have nominated their candidates for South Belfast should an election be called. While MPs have twice rejected an early poll, one is widely expected to be called for November.

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