Wednesday, 25 January 2017

MICHELLE NAMED SINN FEIN LEADER thumbnailAll smiles - Coalisland native and former Dungannon Mayor Michelle O’Neill, who was selected yesterday, Monday, as the new Sinn Fein Leader at Stormont.

COALISLAND native Michelle O'Neill was named yesterday, Monday, as the the new Sinn Féin Leader at Stormont.

Mrs O'Neill, who held the portfolio of Health Minister, was widely tipped as the person to take over from former Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, who has retired due to illness.

Speculation grew over the weekend that the former Dungannon Mayor would head the party with Mrs O'Neill taking a prominent position sitting next to party president Gerry Adams at a conference in Dublin.

Elected to the Assembly in Mid-Ulster in 2007, she had been Minister of Health and was previously the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development.

Michelle O'Neill represented the Torrent electoral area on Dungannon and South Tyrone Borough Council from 2005 to 2011 and was Mayor of Dungannon and South Tyrone in 2010 - making history as the first female to head the Borough Council.

A native of Coalisland, her father was Brendan Doris, a Sinn Fein Councillor in the Torrent Ward from 1989-2001.

While welcoming the new Sinn Fein Leader at Stormont, tributes have also been paid to former Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, who confirmed last week he will not stand in the Northern Ireland Assembly election.

Mr McGuinness, a former Mid-Ulster MP and MLA, quit as Deputy First Minister in a row over the RHI energy scheme, sparking an election on 2nd March.

He had been in the post since entering NI's power-sharing assembly in 2007 with the then DUP Leader the Rev Ian Paisley.

Mr McGuinness, 66, has been ill for a number of weeks and said this was a factor in his decision.

Mr McGuinness told the BBC that he had faced a "big decision" over his future and that he will never again be "an elected representative" in politics.

Prime Minister Theresa May paid tribute to Mr McGuinness.

Extending best wishes for his retirement, the Prime Minister said Mr McGuinness "played a key role in moving the republican movement towards a position of using peaceful and democratic means",

Fermanagh and South Tyrone DUP leader Arlene Foster, who lost her position as First Minister when Mr McGuinness resigned, said that he had been a "major figure" in Stormont.

"While never forgetting the past, I believe the work at Stormont provided the foundations for our relative peace today.

"Despite all that has happened, I wish Martin McGuinness a speedy recovery and that he and his wife are able to enjoy time with their family away from the relentless focus of public life."

Francie Molloy, MP for Mid-Ulster paid tribute to his predecessor.

Mr Molloy told the Courier: "Martin McGuinness has been a remarkable character in Irish political life over many, many years. I cannot overstate the influence he has had on moving our society from conflict to a society where it is recognised that every individual has political power when they use their vote.

"When Martin stood for election in Mid-Ulster in 1997, he was not just taking on the challenge of unseating Willie McCrea, but he was setting out the stall that republicans were the people seeking to make the peace process work. Despite the actions of successive British Government's in stalling negotiations and the peace process, the people sent a clear message that it was time for change.

"Martin McGuinness took on the mantle of the lead negotiator, not for the title or the publicity but for the very clear reason that this was a unique opportunity to bring about lasting peace in Ireland. It was a role that he put his heart and soul into."

Continued the MP: "Over the past 10 years as Joint First Minister, Martin has never shirked his responsibility or walked away from the challenges of the job. He didn't shy away from saying it as he seen it and he took a lot of flak for some of those decisions - but he was always clear that leadership required bold decisions and decisive actions.

"The decision by Martin to step down from elected politics must have come as one of the most difficult decisions, but perhaps one of the easier ones also. He has been the architect of change in our society, the builder of peace."

Party colleague and Fermanagh & South Tyrone MLA Michelle Gildernew described Mr McGuinness as a "great leader" and showed "more patience and generosity than many would have wanted him to".

Speaking to the Courier, Ms Gildernew said: "Martin's been a great leader right across the island of Ireland and I think his leadership, his experience, his personality and his tenacity have been monumental in keeping the peace process on track.

"The mistake the DUP made was they thought his generosity and his patience were infinite, but he had much more patience and generosity that many a one would have wanted him to have had.

"Without him, we wouldn't have been where we are today and I hope that he makes a full and speedy recovery."


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