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Michelle O'Neill set to be named new Sinn Féin leader at Stormont

Michelle O'Neill is expected to be named the Sinn Féin leader at Stormont this afternoon. Pictured giving the closing at Sinn Féin conference on Irish unity held in Dublin on Saturday

Sinn Féín has confirmed a scheduled announcement for this afternoon at which it is expected Michelle O'Neill will be named the party's new leader at Stormont.

The 40-year-old health minister is expected to be formally announced today as the replacement for Martin McGuinness ahead of colleague Conor Murphy.

The former regional development minister had been considered the clear favourite up until a few months ago, but now appears to have been overtaken in the race.

The exact title of the new role is unclear, but Mr McGuinness had previously been known as the party's 'chief negotiator' during the lead-up to the Good Friday Agreement and during discussions which led to the IRA arms decommissioning in 2005.

Mrs O'Neill was recently described as the party's "senior minister" at Stormont.

On Saturday she was seated beside Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams at a conference in Dublin on the subject of Irish unity, a further indication of her seniority within the party.

The Mid-Ulster MLA gave the final speech at the 'Towards a United Ireland conference', which included a series of talks from politicians and political commentators.

Among those to speak at the debate in Mansion House were Irish News columnists Brian Feeney and Alex Kane, as well as former contributor Susan McKay.

If the former Agriculture Minister is named as the successor to party stalwart Martin McGuinness it will cap a rapid rise through the ranks for the Co Tyrone mother-of-two, first elected to Stormont in 2007.

After initially sitting on the Stormont education and health committees, where she was deputy chair, she became minister for agriculture in 2011.

As a clear sign of confidence in her work she was placed in charge of health last year.

Sinn Féin would not confirm last night if Michelle O'Neill was to be announced as the new leader in the north, nor would the party disclose how such a decision is made.

It is unclear whether votes were collected from each cumann, or what processes were followed to elect Mr McGuinness' replacement.

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