O’Dowd’s audacious bid to replace O’Neill

Posted By: September 02, 2019

John Manley. Irish News. Belfast. Monday, September 2, 2019

FORMER Stormont education minister John O’Dowd is expected to spend this week canvassing colleagues’ support for his audacious bid to replace Michelle O’Neill as Sinn Féin’s vice-president.

The Upper Bann MLA confirmed his plan to run for the party’s deputy leader’s job in a tweet at the weekend.

“I can confirm I will be seeking nominations for leas uachtarán of Sinn Féin as we approach the ard fheis and the annual election of the party leadership,” he tweeted.

“I look forward to the debate across the party and island.”

It is the first time in decades a Sinn Féin leadership figure has been publicly challenged from within the party ranks.

Mr. O’Dowd, who in 2011 stood in as deputy first minister when Martin McGuinness ran in the Irish presidential election, declined to comment on the surprise move


It is unclear whether he already has significant allies within Sinn Féin or is hoping to garner wider support ahead of November’s ard fheis in Derry.

Sinn Féin issued a statement confirming that Ms. O’Neill will be seeking re-election.

The Mid-Ulster MLA was appointed as the party’s leader in the north in January 2017 after Martin McGuinness stood down due to illness.

She had previously been agriculture minister and latterly health minister in the Stormont executive.

“Sinn Féin is a democratic party and I welcome democratic debate and choice within the party,” she said.

She said the party leadership was “fully focused on the threat of Brexit” and “safeguarding the peace and progress of the past 21 years”.

“I am fully committed to this work and to building Sinn Féin as a national political movement for Irish unity and an agreed Ireland,” she said.

“I will ask the party membership to endorse my record by re-electing me to the position of leas uachtarán of the party.”

Commentator Brian Feeney said gauging the level of support for Mr. O’Dowd was difficult.

“This will be a national election so he’ll need support from right across the island, which is no easy task,” he said.

The Irish News columnist said it was important that Sinn Féin held an open contest that demonstrated it was a democratic party.

“In many ways, this is a necessary step that Sinn Féin needs to take if it wants to be seen as a modern party – the culture of appointments and coronations should be left behind,” he said.

“This should be a template for all future leadership elections, otherwise people will look askance at them.”