Northern Ireland news

Michelle O'Neill looks forward after seeing off challenge from John O'Dowd

Sinn Féin's John O'Dowd waits for the presidential address by Mary Lou McDonald at the party's ard fheis. Shortly earlier he lost a vote against Michelle O'Neill for the position of vice president. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

MICHELLE O'Neill has sought to put the challenge to her Sinn Féin deputy leadership behind her, vowing to work alongside John O'Dowd in the future.

She defeated the former Stormont education minister in a poll for the vice-president's post at Saturday's ard fheis in Derry - although the breakdown in votes was not made public.

Mr O'Dowd announced his challenge in August, voicing hope that the contest would be preceded by “debate across the party and island”.

But the party's ard chomhairle subsequently ruled that there would be no hustings events, while the candidates were discouraged from speaking to the media about the vote.

The Upper Bann MLA was making no comment to the media after the result was announced on Saturday evening, although he tweeted his congratulations to the victor.

“Comhghairdeas to Michelle on being elected Leas Uachtáran Sinn Féin,” his social media post said.

“I look forward to working with you in the time ahead. Go raibh maith agaibh to all those who supported me over this last number of weeks & those who voted for me.”

Ms O'Neill issued a statement thanking those who had supported her.

“The contest was conducted in a very comradely way across the party where John O'Dowd and I campaigned internally and put forward our platform and vision to the Sinn Féin membership,” she said.

“John is a long-standing republican and a highly regarded colleague and I very much value his political contribution and friendship.”

The Sinn Féin northern leader said both herself and Mr O'Dowd were “committed to advancing our party, so that we are fit for purpose as a political movement now and in the future”.

“Working alongside Mary Lou McDonald and our senior team I want to maximise the positive growth and development of the party across Ireland,” the Mid Ulster MLA said.

“It's our ambition to drive a progressive political agenda for change across Ireland.”

Sinn Féin councillor Catherine Nelson, a former MLA in Mr O'Dowd's constituency, described Ms O'Neill as a “sterling leader”.

But she said the former education minister had “put party before self”.

“In stepping forward he helped further the modernisation of our party. A move that'll sharpen us.”

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