Michelle O'Neill (née Doris; born 10 January 1977) is an Irish politician serving as deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland since 2020. She has served as Vice President of Sinn Féin since 2018 and has been a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) for Mid Ulster since 2007.
|Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland|
|Assumed office |
11 January 2020
Serving with Arlene Foster
|Preceded by||Martin McGuinness|
|Vice President of Sinn Féin|
|Assumed office |
10 February 2018
|President||Mary Lou McDonald|
|Preceded by||Mary Lou McDonald|
|Minister of Health|
25 May 2016 – 2 March 2017
|First Minister||Arlene Foster|
|Deputy First Minister||Martin McGuinness|
|Preceded by||Simon Hamilton (Health, Social Services and Public Safety)|
|Succeeded by||Robin Swann|
|Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development|
5 May 2011 – 6 May 2016
|First Minister||Peter Robinson|
|Deputy First Minister||Martin McGuinness|
|Preceded by||Michelle Gildernew|
|Succeeded by||Michelle McIlveen (Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs)|
|Mayor of Dungannon and South Tyrone|
June 2010 – June 2011
|Preceded by||Francie Molloy|
|Succeeded by||Kenneth Reid|
|Member of the Legislative Assembly|
for Mid Ulster
|Assumed office |
7 March 2007
|Preceded by||Geraldine Dougan|
10 January 1977
Fermoy, County Cork, Ireland
|Political party||Sinn Féin|
(m. 1995; separated 2014)
In the Northern Ireland Executive, she previously served under deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness as Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development from 2011 to 2016 and Minister of Health from 2016 to 2017.
O'Neill comes from an Irish republican family in Clonoe, County Tyrone. She was born in Fermoy, County Cork. Her father Brendan Doris was a Provisional IRA prisoner and Sinn Féin councillor. Her uncle Paul Doris is a former national president of the Irish Northern Aid Committee (NORAID). A cousin, Tony Doris, was one of three IRA members shot dead by the SAS in 1991. Another cousin, IRA volunteer Gareth Malachy Doris, was shot and wounded during the 1997 Coalisland attack.
After the death of Brendan Doris in 2006, Martin McGuinness paid tribute to the Doris family as "a well-known and respected republican family [who] have played a significant role in the republican struggle for many years".
O'Neill became involved in republican politics in her teens, assisting her father with constituency work in his role as a Dungannon councillor. She joined Sinn Féin after the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, at the age of 21, and started working as an advisor to Francie Molloy in the Northern Ireland Assembly. She kept this role until 2005, when she was elected to represent the Torrent electoral area on Dungannon and South Tyrone Borough Council, taking the seat which had been vacated by her father. O'Neill was elected as an MLA for Mid Ulster in the 2007 Assembly election, succeeding her Sinn Féin colleague Geraldine Dougan. While a backbencher in the Assembly, she sat on Stormont's education and health committees. In 2010, she became Mayor of Dungannon and South Tyrone. O'Neill was the first woman to hold the position of Mayor, as well as one of the youngest people. She held the council position until 2011.
Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development
O'Neill succeeded Michelle Gildernew as Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development in the Northern Ireland Executive after the 2011 Assembly election. One of her key decisions in the role was the relocation of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development's headquarters from Belfast to a former British Army barracks in Ballykelly, County Londonderry in a bid to decentralise civil service jobs. The decision overruled an internal report on the matter, which recommended Strabane as a more appropriate location.
In December 2013, the High Court quashed a decision by O'Neill to reallocate 7% of Common Agricultural Policy funds to rural development projects that had been favoured by environmentalists. The court ruled that she was in breach of the Ministerial Code, having not sought the necessary permissions for the transfer from the Executive.
Minister of Health
O'Neill replaced the Democratic Unionist Party's Simon Hamilton as Minister of Health following the 2016 election. After just eight days in office, she announced she would be scrapping the lifetime ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood in Northern Ireland. On 25 October 2016, O'Neill unveiled a document titled Health and Wellbeing 2026: Delivering Together, a ten-year plan based on the findings of the Bengoa Report which aims to modernise the health and social care system.
Vice President of Sinn Féin and deputy First Minister
In January 2017, when Martin McGuinness resigned as deputy First Minister in protest against the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal, and said that he would not stand in the resulting snap election, O'Neill was chosen as Sinn Féin's new "party leader in the North". The fact that she was favoured for the leadership ahead of former IRA member Conor Murphy marked a notable break in the leadership's direct association with the organisation.
In the election that followed McGuinness's resignation, O'Neill was returned to the Assembly, topping the poll in Mid Ulster and with a 20.6% share of first-preference votes. In March 2017, she called for a referendum on the reunification of Ireland "as soon as possible" in response to the United Kingdom's decision to leave the European Union. O'Neill led the Sinn Féin side in the inter-party negotiations that followed the election, aiming to restore a power-sharing coalition in Northern Ireland, but said at the end of March that the talks had failed, and Sinn Féin would not nominate her for the position of deputy First Minister.
In February 2018, O'Neill became vice president of Sinn Féin, succeeding Mary Lou McDonald who became president following the retirement of Gerry Adams. In November 2019 she faced a leadership challenge from John O'Dowd, winning with 67% of the vote.
In January 2020, O'Neill was appointed deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland Assembly elections
|2007||Mid Ulster||Sinn Féin||6,432||14.5||Elected|
|2011||Mid Ulster||Sinn Féin||5,178||11.9||Elected|
|2016||Mid Ulster||Sinn Féin||6,147||15.1||Elected|
|2017||Mid Ulster||Sinn Féin||10,258||20.6||Elected|
- "New northern Sinn Féin leader tells both governments to step up to the plate". 23 January 2017. Archived from the original on 26 January 2017. Retrieved 24 January 2017.
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- correspondent, Henry McDonald Ireland (2 June 2016). "Northern Ireland to lift ban on gay men donating blood". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Archived from the original on 20 December 2016. Retrieved 29 March 2017.
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- McDonald, Henry (19 November 2017). "Search for new Sinn Féin leader begins after Gerry Adams steps down". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 December 2019.
- McDonald, Henry (23 January 2017). "Sinn Féin names Michelle O'Neill as new leader in Northern Ireland". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Archived from the original on 25 March 2017. Retrieved 29 March 2017.
- McKeown, Gareth. "Michelle O'Neill set to be named new Sinn Féin leader at Stormont". The Irish News. Archived from the original on 30 March 2017. Retrieved 29 March 2017.
- "Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill tops poll in Mid Ulster". ITV News. Archived from the original on 30 March 2017. Retrieved 29 March 2017.
- "NI Assembly Election 2017 Result Sheet – Mid Ulster (XLS)". The Electoral Office of Northern Ireland – EONI. Archived from the original on 30 March 2017.
- "Michelle O'Neill calls for 'urgent' referendum on Irish unity". BBC News. 13 March 2017. Archived from the original on 29 March 2017. Retrieved 29 March 2017.
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- Preiss, Bert (2020). Conflict at the Interface: Local Community Divisions and Hegemonic Forces in Northern Ireland. LIT Verlag. p. 97. ISBN 978-3643911919.
- "Sinn Féin: O'Neill polled 67% in deputy leadership contest". BBC. 22 November 2019. Retrieved 2 December 2019.
- "Stormont deal: Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill new top NI ministers". BBC. 12 January 2020. Retrieved 19 January 2020.
- Preston, Allan (6 February 2017). "Being a teenage mother turned me into a stronger person, reveals Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill". Belfast Telegraph. Retrieved 26 September 2019.
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