Michelle O’Neill, the reassuring face of Sinn Féin

“They were historic elections. An election for real change. I’ll lead the Sinn Féin team to Stormont (the Irish Parliament, ed) Monday, ready to start the executive immediately. Put money in people’s pockets. Invest in our health services. And to build a better future for everyone. “

The tweet accompanied by a selfie shows a radiant Michelle O’Neill, this election night in Belfast who gave the Northern Irish nationalists two great victories: the historic one of the rise to power of Sinn Féin – former political showcase of the Irish Republican Army paramilitary group ( IRA) in Ulster – and that of a 45-year-old nationalist woman, prime minister for the first time.

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I will provide inclusive leadership, which celebrates diversity, which guarantees rights and equality for those who have been excluded, discriminated against or ignored in the past “, she added.

Legitimate in the eyes of nationalists

This smiling face hides a determination forged in an Irish Catholic family marked by the Troubles (the thirty-year war between Catholics and Protestants which, from 1969 to 1998, claimed 3,480 victims). His father, Brendan Doris, a former member of the IRA, served a prison sentence. His uncle, Paul Doris, headed the Noraid Committee, responsible for raising funds for the IRA in the United States. Finally, two cousins ​​of his IRA fighters were injured, one killed by British security forces. A real legitimacy in the eyes of the nationalists.

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Then there is the woman who campaigned on the everyday problems that affect the common man and woman: the improvement of health services in Northern Ireland, the housing crisis and the cost of living, in a context of runaway inflation, targeting center voters and refraining from talking about the sensitive subject: the reunification of Ireland. On social issues, there is no doubt that it is also legitimate.

Raised in a blue-collar family

Michelle O’Neill grew up in Clonoe, a small village in County Tyrone in Northern Ireland, in a working-class family, the Dorises. At 16, while she was still in school, she became pregnant. Her father is absent, the teachers of the Catholic school where she studies sigh, but her family is there, surrounds her and supports her, taking care of her little girl, Saoirse, in time to take her exams. Paula Sweeney, one of her friends interviewed by the British newspaper The Guardianto remember : “I knew it was going to get there. She has guts. She got educated, she worked hard and never stopped. “

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He was 21 when successive IRA ceasefires paved the way for negotiations and the signing of the Good Friday peace agreement in 1998. His father is elected in Dungannon Township. She succeeded him from 2005 to 2011. She was then mayor of Dungannon and South Tyrone from 2010 to 2011. At that time, she was noticed by Martin McGuinness, former chief of staff of the IRA, who had become one of the leading figures of Sinn Féin alongside Gerry Adams and architect of the peace process. He urges her to become a member of the Sinn Féin assembly where she chairs the committee responsible for educational matters.

Martin McGuinness his mentor

Meanwhile, Michelle O’Neill got married and gave birth to her second child. Her political career continues. In 2011 she was first appointed Minister of Agriculture, then Minister of Health by Martin McGuinness, who then shared power with Ian Paisley of the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party).

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At his mentor McGuinness’s 2017 funeral in the city of Derry, he helped carry his coffin. The party then in full review wants to change his image and make a clean sweep of the violent past that still associates him with the IRA in the collective imagination. Who better than a young woman with undeniable charisma, with a recognized workforce, can take the reins of Sinn Féin? Michelle O’Neill becomes party leader in Ulster in 2017, while in the Republic of Ireland, the southern part of the island, in the same renewal strategy, Sinn Féin appoints another woman, Mary Lou McDonald, to represent him in the Dublin Parliament. A profitable strategy, as the latter could also become the next taoiseach (Prime Minister).

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