Michelle O’Neill has been named the new leader of Sinn Féin in the North.
Ms O’Neill will act as the successor to Martin McGuinness, who stepped down last week due to health problems. The Co. Tyrone native is the outgoing Health Minister in Stormont and has been an MLA for the mid-Ulster constituency since 2007.
Ms O’Neill could become deputy first minister or even first minister of Northern Ireland, depending on the outcome of the assembly elections in March.
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The 40-year-old has been active in republican politics since her youth and has held various senior positions within the Sinn Féin party. Previous to being elected to the Assembly, she worked in the Assembly from 1998-2005 as political advisor to former Assembly member Francie Molloy MP, before she entered local government politics herself.
Ms O’Neill served in local government as a member of Dungannon and South Tyrone Borough Council from 2005 until 2010 – becoming the first woman to hold the position of Mayor of the Dungannon council area. She has championed issues of equality, autism, disability, mental health and the rights of rural dwellers since first being elected as an Assembly Member in March 2007.
Michelle was appointed as Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development following the 2011 Assembly Election. In May 2016 Michelle was re-elected as an Assembly member for Mid Ulster and reappointed to the Executive as Minister for Health.
She has two grown-up children, aged 18 and 23.
Speaking on the announcement, Michelle said: “It’s a huge honour, a really big, big privilege for me to be chosen as leader in the North. As a wee girl from Clonoe in Tyrone it really just gives me immense pride to say that I am going to lead our party in the future.”
Outgoing deputy first minister Martin McGuinness said that he is overjoyed that Michelle is the new leader. “She will have my wholehearted support,” McGuinness said.