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New Sinn Féin website photo gives indication of future leadership team - Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O'Neill side by side

The photo of Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O'Neill side by side now greets visitors to the Sinn Féin website

SINN Féin has given a seemingly clear indication of its future leadership team by changing the main photo on its website to one of Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O'Neill side by side.

The two most senior women in the party are expected to become the new face of Sinn Féin after a year of leadership changes. The previous image which greeted visitors to the website's home page had been a general photo of a protest.

Martin McGuinness resigned as deputy first minister in January and was replaced by Ms O'Neill, the Mid-Ulster MLA, as Sinn Féin's northern leader. Mr McGuinness, who had first come to public prominence almost half a century ago, died in March aged 66.

His health problems put paid to an original plan to step down in May, on the tenth anniversary of the restoration of devolution, when Mr McGuinness became deputy first minister after Sinn Féin agreed to a power-sharing arrangement with Ian Paisley's DUP.

Last month Gerry Adams, the Sinn Féin President and Louth TD, told the party's ard fheis that he would be stepping down as leader next year after more than three decades at the helm.

A new leader is expected to be selected by the end of February and Ms McDonald, the current deputy leader and Dublin Central TD, is the clear front-runner.

On Monday, she told a selection convention in Dublin Central that "over the coming period I will ask Sinn Féin members to back me as their new leader".

The two women will not be competing with each other for the top job after Ms O'Neill ruled herself out, saying she has "enough to do leading the north at this moment in time".

Donegal TD and finance spokesman Pearse Doherty, who had also been tipped as a potential successor to Mr Adams, said he would not be seeking to lead the party at the present time.

Ms McDonald said: "The leader of Sinn Féin will be elected at a special ard fheis, by vote of our membership - an open democratic process. No coronations or anointments involved."

When The Irish News asked the party in January about the process involved in selecting Ms O'Neill as northern leader, a spokesman said: "The Sinn Féin president brought forward a recommendation that was ratified by the ard chomhairle."

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