McGuinness Passes Torch to Michelle O’Neill

Martin McGuinness has stepped down as NI deputy first minister. Michelle O'Neill will assume the role.

By Olivia O’Mahony, Editorial Assistant
February / March 2017

Former Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland Martin McGuinness announced in January that he would not be running for re-election due to an earlier diagnosis with a rare medical condition. Taking on the role as lead representative of Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland is Michelle O’Neill, the outgoing Northern Irish minister for health and niece of prominent Northern Aid official Paul Doris, who acted as Grand Marshal of the 2016 St. Patrick’s Day parade in Philadelphia.

“I have to be honest with myself,” McGuinness said at a press conference. “This has taken a toll on me in the course of recent times, and the reality is that I’m not physically able to put the energy and the effort that is needed into this election.

“After long and careful consideration, I have decided that it is time for a new generation of republicans to lead us into this election and the negotiations that will follow.”

McGuinness’s resignation process began with a dispute with Northern First Minister Arlene Foster. Foster had refused to stand aside in face of an inquiry concerning a massive cost overrun on a project to replace fossil fuel usage with wood burning fuels, resulting in a potential $450 million fallout to be paid by the Northern Irish taxpayer. Weeks later, McGuinness declared that due to being diagnosed with an uncommon genetic disease known as amyloidosis, which causes the abnormal buildup of protein in the body’s organs, he would be putting aside an attempt to run for re-election in order to concentrate on his health.

Michelle O'Neill.

Michelle O’Neill.

“As a united all-Ireland team, we will give [O’Neill] the space and support to find her own voice and continue the good work Martin pioneered,” said Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams when announcing her appointment. He also asserted that she would guide the party into the next generation.

O’Neill’s new position of First Minister or Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland will be decided by the general public when Northern Ireland goes to polls on March 2, heavily dependent on how Sinn Féin fares in the vote. The Tyrone native first became involved with the party in 1998 as a trained welfare advisor, working directly with Martin McGuinness after the Good Friday Agreement was signed. She has represented mid-Ulster in the Northern Ireland Assembly since 2007, and is the first leader of Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland to be devoid of direct Irish Republican Army involvement, though her father (Sinn Féin councillor Brendan “Basil” Doris) was a formerly taken prisoner by the group.

“I have never been afraid of a challenge and I have never been afraid to act,” said O’Neill, adding that the appointment was a “huge honor, a really, really big privilege for [her]” and that she was “following in the footsteps of a political giant.” ♦


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