5 things you should know about Michelle O'Neill, the new Sinn Fein leader at Stormont
Sinn Fein Health Minister Michelle O’Neill has become the party’s new leader at Stormont, after Martin McGuinness decided to quit frontline politics.
Here’s five things you should know about her:
1. She’s spent years working on mental health and suicide prevention
O’Neill sought to raise awareness as minister for rural development by funding a suicide prevention officer in her Mid Ulster constituency.
She said: “I have no doubt that Niamh Louise Foundation’s project will mean that for those who may suffer in silence, they will now have the opportunity to break that silence and find the help and support they need.”
2. She’s a people person
Friends of O’Neill put her impressive rise to power aged just 40 down to her passion for helping people.
Mid Ulster MP and party colleague Francie Molloy watched her progress through local politics and said she had a thoughtful approach to dealing with people.
“She is not one of these people who rushes into commentary on things, she would be a good listener and sit back and observe and take account of things, so she would not be a reactionary sort of person.
“She would certainly be more on the lines of consideration and looking at all the effects of it and looking at the good points of people as well as the issues.”
3. She’s been in politics for most of her life
The former agriculture minister has been involved in republican politics from her teens, has held various senior positions within Sinn Fein and has a background in social welfare issues.
O’Neill was elected to the devolved assembly in 2007 following the restoration of power-sharing after years of backroom work for Molloy.
And the mother-of-two was not only the first woman to hold the position of mayor on Dungannon and South Tyrone Borough Council, but was also one of the youngest.
She is also a member of Sinn Fein’s ruling Ard Chomhairle.
4. She’s backed some progressive things
While agriculture minister, she decentralised government services from Belfast and won praise for efforts to boost rural development – although a DUP ministerial colleague won a court challenge against her bid to divert funds towards that area.
One of her first actions as health minister was to lift the lifetime ban on gay men donating blood.
And she has also supported a cross-border cardiology service credited with saving the lives of 27 patients from Co Donegal in its first nine months.
5. She has had no direct IRA involvement
Unlike fellow politicians McGuinness or Gerry Kelly, O’Neill has had no direct IRA involvement.
It is worth noting that her father, Brendan “Basil” Doris, was a former IRA prisoner who became a Sinn Fein councillor in Dungannon. Her uncle, Paul Doris, is president of Noraid, a republican fundraising group.