John O’Dowd to challenge Michelle O’Neill as Sinn Fein vice president

Michelle O'Neill MLA is Sinn Fein's vice president and northern leader
Michelle O'Neill MLA is Sinn Fein's vice president and northern leader
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Sinn Fein’s vice president is set to face a challenge for her job.

Former Stormont education minister John O’Dowd has signalled his ambition to replace Michelle O’Neill in the senior leadership role.

John O'Dowd MLA of Sinn Fein

John O'Dowd MLA of Sinn Fein

Mr O’Dowd is hoping to secure nominations from party colleagues ahead of a potential challenge at November’s Sinn Fein conference, Ard Fheis.

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

A year earlier, Mrs O’Neill was appointed the party’s Stormont leader after the late Martin McGuinness stood down on health grounds.

The move from Mr O’Dowd comes in the wake of the party’s poor performance in the European and local council elections south of the border in May.

Sinn Fein is an all Ireland party but has a northern leader

Sinn Fein is an all Ireland party but has a northern leader

Sinn Fein lost two of its four MEPs and around half of its councillors.

Mr O’Dowd confirmed his intention to the Belfast Telegraph.

“I can confirm that I am going forward and right now I am speaking to fellow party members to secure nominations,” he said.

“I would prefer to talk to more party members first but I will release a more detailed statement at a later date.”

A Sinn Fein election poster

A Sinn Fein election poster

Mrs O’Neill confirmed that she would be seeking re-election to the vice presidency.

“I welcome democratic debate and choice within the party,” she said.

“The Sinn Fein leadership is fully focused on the threat of Brexit across the whole island and safeguarding the peace and progress of the past 21 years.

“I am fully committed to this work and to building Sinn Fein as a national political movement for Irish unity and an agreed Ireland.

“I will ask the party membership to endorse my record by re-electing me to the position of Leas Uachtaran (vice president) of the party.”

A Sinn Fein spokesman said: “Sinn Fein is an open and democratic party.

“Any member of Sinn Fein is entitled to seek nomination for the positions elected at the party’s annual Ard Fheis.”