Northern Ireland news

Sinn Féin's Molloy critical of leadership challenge 'timing'

Sinn Féin MP Francie Molloy is supporting Michelle O'Neill as party deputy leader following a surprise challenge for the role from John O'Dowd

A VETERAN Sinn Féin politician has said he is "disappointed" that John O'Dowd is challenging Michelle O'Neill for her position as party vice-president.

Mid-Ulster MP Francie Molloy said it is "just the wrong time" for a leadership contest and raised concerns that it could be potentially "disruptive" for the party by encouraging challenges for other postilions.

Speaking to the BBC's Inside Politics programme yesterday evening, the high-profile republican described Mr O'Dowd as a "good comrade" who he had "good time for" but added that he "didn't see any difference" in the views of the two candidates.

"I don't see any difference in what John O'Dowd is saying about the political direction we're going in... I think if you're challenging you have to set out what's different from the present leadership," Mr Molloy said.

He added: "It is wrong to change leadership at this particular time when we're trying to get an Assembly up and running."

Mr O'Dowd has yet to outline his reasons for running since making the surprise announcement last month - a move that is unprecedented in the party.

A former education minister, Mr O'Dowd served as deputy first minister when Martin McGuinness stepped aside to run in the Irish presidential election in 2011.

On Thursday, Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew endorsed Mr O'Dowd, saying she believed he had the "skill-set" that Sinn Féin needed for the "next phase of the struggle for Irish freedom and bringing about an Ireland of equals".

However, Mr Molloy, who belongs to the more conservative wing of the party and was critical of the leadership's decision to liberalise its stance on abortion, said he was "disappointed" at Ms Gildernew's failure to support a younger member of the party with "drive and enthusiasm".

"We had Gerry (Adams) there for 30 years...some would say (change) is good, others would say it's disruptive," he said.

"...Once you open up challenges...I think there will be challenges for other positions."

He added: "We're in different times now, we're trying to drive politics forward, Brexit is a major issue and it's just the wrong time."

The leadership result will be announced at the party's ard fheis in November.

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