SINN Féin today announced that Michelle O’Neill will replace Martin McGuinness as party leader in Northern Ireland.
The move marks a significant generational shift for Sinn Féin, with the 40-year-old current health minister set to take over from 66-year-old McGuinness at the next election.
O’Neill said that she was “following in the footsteps of a political giant” who “no-one can replace” – but who exactly is the new face of Sinn Féin in the North?
She was born Michelle Doris in the village of Clonoe, Co. Tyrone on January 10, 1977 – at the height of the Troubles era in Northern Ireland.
After her father’s death in 2006, Martin McGuinness said: “The Doris family are a well-known and respected republican family and have played a significant role in the republican struggle for many years.”
O’Neill joined Sinn Féin following the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, after which she worked in the Assembly from 1998-2005 as political advisor to former Assembly member Francie Molloy MP.
After serving as an advisor to former Assembly member Francie Molloy MP, O’Neill entered local government politics herself in 2005 as a member of Dungannon and South Tyrone Borough Council.
In 2010 she became the first woman to hold the position of Mayor of the Dungannon council area.
In the executive
Following the 2011 Assembly Election O’Neill was appointed as Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development.
Her most prominent announcement in that role was moving the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s headquarters from Belfast to a former Army barracks in Ballykelly, Co. Derry.
In doing so, O’Neill overruled an internal DARD assessment which chose Strabane as the site.
In 2015, she was promoted to minister for health, one of Stormont’s most high-profile roles.
She was faced with mounting hospital waiting lists, a crisis in general practice and the findings of the Bengoa report into how Northern Ireland’s health care is organised.
In May 2016 se was re-elected as Assembly member for Mid Ulster and reappointed in her role as minister for health.
After Martin McGuinness announced he would be leaving frontline politics last week, the initial frontrunner to succeed him was Conor Murphy.
Murphy was sentenced to five years in prison in 1982 for possession of explosives.
One factor in O’Neill’s appointment as leader in the North may be her lack of baggage – which could bring her wider appeal.
She is married to Paddy O’Neill and has two children, daughter Saoirse and son Ryan.
O’Neill is a keen supporter of Gaelic sports and is a member of her local GAA club – Clonoe O’Rahilly’s.