Sinn Féin have confirmed that Mid Ulster MLA Michelle O’Neill will succeed Martin McGuinness as the party’s northern leader.
The Clonoe woman was confirmed by the Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle over the weekend and formally announced to the media in Stormont’s Great Hall at 2pm today (Monday).
Describing her honour at being appointed to the role, Ms O’Neill pledged to continue the outreach model developed by Martin McGuinness as Deputy First Minister.
“I see it as my job as leader to make sure we are reaching out to all sections of the community and that we have a conversation about how we shape that future island. I think that for me as a leader, that is certainly going to be a key part of my work.
“Martin has taken and outreached so many times and done tremendous work and I really want to build on that. I want to have the conversation with unionism about what is the future for us here on this small island.”
However referring to Martin McGuinness’ statement that there could be no return to the status quo at Stormont, she added, “There is an opportunity for an absolute step change and fix something that is wrong.”
First elected to the Assembly in 2007, Michelle O’Neill was the first woman to become Mayor of Dungannon and South Tyrone Borough Council.
She joined the Executive in May 2011, serving as Agriculture Minister for five years, a role that seen her develop many relationships within the traditionally unionist dominated farm lobby.
In May 2016 she assumed the Health Ministry, quickly earning plaudits by lifting the lifetime ban on gay men donating blood.
From a strong republican background, her father, Brendan Doris was a former Sinn Féin councillor and republican prisoner.