Michelle O’Neill: the right stuff?

On Monday of this week, Michelle O’Neill stepped into Martin McGuinness’s shoes. Had she done that literally, she’d have found they were too big to be practical. And even though we’re not talking leather here and talking political, they’re still too big for her. But then again, can you think of any Sinn Féin politician who wouldn’t find the shoes of the former Deputy First Minister too big to fill?

Fortunately, Michelle doesn’t have to fill the shoes of her predecessor. As Deputy First Minister, she must find her own shoes, her own style, her own voice. Not an easy task, given the ignorance and contempt with which Martin McGuinness had to contend over ten years.

One thing that the new Sinn Féin leader should be spared is people leaping from the bushes and accusing her of having been responsible for the death of their loved one, in the middle of a conveniently arranged live TV interview. To accuse her, for example, of complicity in the death of Earl Mountbatten will be difficult, given that she was two at the time. And she’s unlikely to be asked by RTÉ when she last went to confession.

And the new leader has that kind of wholesome, attractive appearance which comes so naturally to Tyrone people (Shut up, Virginia),. Nor is it sexist to mention that, as John F Kennedy was fortunate to be viewed beside the brooding face of his political opponent Dick Nixon, Michelle will have a similar advantage, assuming the DUP don’t decide enough is enough and remove Arlene as their leader.

Will she make a good leader? Probably, although these things are hard to predict. She won’t have the weight and authority that Martin McGuinness brought to the post. Or not yet anyway. But we need to distinguish between how someone is when they take up a post and how they develop within a post. We talk about how some “grow into the job”. We all know how scary it can be to embark on a totally new position, and how encouraging it is when we discover that yes, we’re actually not bad at this. Once that confidence is established, it grows and feeds further confidence, and qualities hitherto hidden begin to flower.

The other thing that is crucial in any new job, particularly a political job, is the response of colleagues. If they tell you, directly or indirectly, that you are a bit of a busted flush, it’s tough to grow. Michelle O’Neill is fortunate in that she’ll head up a young(ish) team of talented Ministers or ex-Ministers – Mairtin O Muilleoir, Conor Murphy, John O’Dowd, Michelle Gildernew – who can give her the support in depth she’ll need. In fact, when you look at it, the new Sinn Féin in Stormont will be a force to be reckoned with.

And if you believe in lineage, the new Sinn Féin leader is impeccable. Her father was a republican prisoner and a Sinn Féin councillor, her grandmother was a civil rights activist and her uncle was national president of Noraid.

None of that background, however, will make Michelle O’Neill a successful Deputy First Minister or First Minister. That will be determined in large measure by how she is able to conduct herself in the face of unionist opponents. We can take it as a given that Sinn Féin will not resume partnership with a DUP party that sees reconciliation as a one-way march up a cul-de-sac. If equality and respect are the starting points for a new Executive, and if the note struck by Ian Paisley Jr in that TV interview is taken up by his party, then despite the concerns over Brexit and Trump and other matters, Michelle O’Neill may well preside over a transformative time, for Stormont and all of us.

Dia an obair, Michelle – God bless the work.


19 Responses to Michelle O’Neill: the right stuff?

  1. James Hunter January 28, 2017 at 9:54 am #

    Great story jude

  2. Jack Black January 28, 2017 at 10:12 am #

    Another good piece from you Jude and I believe we could well be in for a very transformative time.
    If the DUP however return to the status quo then Michelle must tell them come back only when you learn how to conduct yourselves.

  3. fiosrach January 28, 2017 at 10:46 am #

    You got the Tyrone bit right,anyway,jude

  4. Jim Neeson January 28, 2017 at 11:07 am #

    Michelle will handle Arlene.I still smile when I think of how she handled an SDLP MLA who interjected when she was speaking. ” You have some neck on you” she said.Dealt with very simply!!!! If Arlene gets there? She might be dealt with in the same way. I hope so!!!

  5. Cal January 28, 2017 at 11:25 am #

    “As Deputy First Minister”


    Nothing personal, Michelle, but I won’t be voting for your party on the basis I don’t want you to become DFM.

    I don’t see what you could possibly hope to achieve sharing power with unreformed corrupt bigots.

    • jessica January 28, 2017 at 1:31 pm #

      I couldn’t vote for Stormont either Cal but will not only be voting this time but will be out actively helping Sinn Fein to increase their vote for the negotiations which will follow the election and I would recommend as many people as possible do so also.

      An increased Sinn Fein vote is the least thing that both governments will want and that is good enough for me.

      Ask yourself which is worse Cal, the unreformed corrupt bigots in the DUP or the two governments who turned a blind eye and accommodated their behaviour for the past decade? It is they who will have to face up to their responsibilities post election and deliver the changes promised, not only the DUP.

      Whether you like it or not, there is only one party on the whole of this island capable of delivering a new 32 county republic that is able to deliver a more prosperous future for ALL of our children, and worse than that, where is only one party even trying to achieve it.

      I both understand and respect your decision not to vote, but would ask if you would consider giving Sinn Fein one last shot at making a real difference.
      What have we got to lose?

      • Cal January 28, 2017 at 1:48 pm #

        Best of luck, Jessica. I wish you well but respectfully disagree. I in the past also held to the position that not voting was a wasted opportunity and suited the ends of unionism.

        I am now hoping that by abstaining, I and thousands like me can send a real message to SF. I just don’t think SF ‘get it’ yet for all the fine words.

        Vague promises of equality and respect are meaningless without specific red lines being outlined. I smell the fudge coming after the election and I want nothing to do with it.

        • jessica January 28, 2017 at 5:53 pm #

          The last 10 years were not spent taking abuse from unionism for nothing, they were spent building up global relationships with many nations, all of which will be essential to rebuilding the economy in a new Ireland. They were spent proving to all of the people on this island that republicans could be in power and behave responsibly and inclusively which they have delivered on. It will be rewarded in both parts of this island.

          The northern Ireland state does not have many years left in it.

          The way I see it, the red lines have been very clearly drawn.
          They are that there will be no return to the status quo.
          That means unresolved issues must be resolved before Stormont can be returned, there is no point in having an executive which cannot resolve issues and doesn’t live up to its word when it does.

          Unresolved issues include legacy, the veto over national security, breaches of agreements, mutual respect of identity as well as the corruption, respect and equality guarantees.

          I will go further.

          An Irish Language act is a given.
          Release of documents withheld over national security must stop and legacy issues funding released.
          The brits must end their political interference and the southern establishment get off their arses and act as guarantors of the agreement to the Irish citizens in the north.
          Projects such as the maze must go ahead as the tourism revenue will be immense.
          All veto’s must end.

          I do want the above issues resolved and would accept a return to Stormont if they were, but I don’t see it happening, certainly if the DUP are returned also.

          These will have to resolved over the coming years with negotiations with the two governments and the Dail which will collapse later in the year without any doubt, and I believe Sinn Fein will be part of the next government and the final deal will be struck with Sinn Fein as the largest party on this island and part of the next Dail. That is why Sinn Fein must accept even a junior partner role in the next Dail if need be.

          This is not a vote for Stormont Cal, and there will never be as important a vote ever again.

          I didn’t vote for the good Friday agreement, I didn’t vote in the last election as I had had enough of Stormont, but I do believe there will never be a better opportunity than this to finally make a real difference.

          We need to deliver a blow that unionism will never recover from.

          You wont help to do this by abstaining.

          All I ask is to at least keep your options open

  6. paddykool January 28, 2017 at 11:42 am #

    Yes …I’m inclined to agree with Cal. I want the moniker DFM abandoned entirely should there ever be anothe working Executive. That would be the first item on the list.A joint office should mean a joint title.That would be the starting point .Each designated as “First Minister” so that there would be no further confusion as to the nature of the role….not that I believe that the DUP will actually be able to understand this complicated idea or even the nature of what joined-up government has to mean in a divided society like ours. They’ve got a lot of catching up to do before they are really ready.Someone needs to explain to them that the war is over too..

  7. fiosrach January 28, 2017 at 12:15 pm #

    Without prying,Harry, do you think you will vote this time?

    • paddykool January 28, 2017 at 12:46 pm #

      Which part of “prying” is giving you the most trouble , fiosrach? ha ha!

      • fiosrach January 28, 2017 at 5:02 pm #

        Are you thinking of taking up politics,Harry?

  8. John Patton January 28, 2017 at 1:06 pm #

    Well considered, Jude. Change has to be managed and thoughtful. The new British PM had some experience at Ministerial level but she was far from a leader. Her disastrous Washington visit where the Donald was orchestrating every move resulted from the actions of an uncertain leader moving at a pace beyond her capability. I have some personal experience of assuming a leadership role and the road ahead is strewn with pitfalls. I am sure that Michelle will listen to sound advice around her and will realise , like you, Jude, that the traditional Tyrone pulchritude is seldom enough on its own to get by nowadays.

  9. Perkin Warbeck January 28, 2017 at 1:45 pm #

    One feels for Michelle O Neill, Esteemed Blogmeister, one feels the deepest foreboding for her.

    Does she realise (fully) what kind of party (precisely) she has accepted the invitation (gilt edged) to lead the Northern part of?

    Right, here goes (deep breath):

    According to the Sir Oracles on RTE last weekend, Sinn Féin is a a Stalinist Party (sez Jim O’Callaghan, Fianna Failure MP for Dublin Dort South) while simultaneously and concurrently, Sinn Féin is a party with a back story of (gulp) Nazi collaboration (sez Anto Anorak of RTE, on the This Week Show).

    Fast forward to Friday aka Yesterday and over on Newstalk fm aka RTE by Any Other Name (AON –má tá AON difríocht eatarthu, abair / if there is any difference between them, speak) where there was a right ding-dong-dung between a perennial young-looking Brian Hayes, MEP of Fianna Fáil Better and a laughingly titled Labour Party (Irish) person, a Joan Burton, MP.
    Both resembled two menacing motorists on a rainy day racing each other to see which one got to the pot-holed puddle first , the better to splash the pedestrian on the sidewalk. The ped. In question (that’s short for pedestrian, Senator !) being, of course, he who hides behind a big, bushy beard, G. Adams, TD the Innumerate..

    Splash !

    -He’s part and parcel of Sinn Fein’s criminal past.

    That was B. Hayes, be Haysus..

    Splash !

    -We know Michelle O Neill was elected but we don’t know …………..HOW !

    That was the Lady Joan whose career (asymmetrical, unsurprisingly) many had thought had gone for a, erm, Burton. Happily, she has now returned from being (gasp) interned in a motor car in Jobstown when she had a job to being in a motor car kerb crawling (in the non-Serbian meaning of the word) and splashing the puddle on the pedestrian (see above) now that she has no job.

    Curious, all the same, how the Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) appears to be a recurring motif in the careering career of the nice but occasionally ice-voiced Lady Joan.

    -We know Michelle O Neill was elected but we don’t know………….HOW !

    Yes, the Yawnaiste of the Irsh versh of the Pawnee tribe, which, by the by, may well explain just exactly how she pronounced:

    -HOW !

    There is no other way of describing this – for those unlucky enough not to have heard it on the Patronising Kenny Show – but she said it if as if she were indeed -still ! – (gulp) Big Chief Sitting Cow.

    When every body knows it is now, actually, Little Chief Howling at the Harvest Moon, aka, Brendan.

    Here is a report (brief) from the Organ of Rex Accord (aka The Unionist Times) of May 21, 2016:

    -Brendan Howlin has defended the Labour Party’s decision not to facilitate a leadership election as he was appointed new leader.


    Appointed? Not elected? This can only mean one thing to the listenership in wirelessland:

    -Disappointed !

    Altogether now (as soon as the feathers have been distributed: buzzard feathers for the braves, sparrow feather for the squaw) so we can chorus in unison the following line in the Canyon of the Ancestral Echo:

    -We know Brendan Howlin (for it is he !) was appointed but we don’t know………HOW !

    To conclude: on further reflection (mature), EB, one suspects that Michelle O Neill, having already weathered a similar chorus from the masked, oops, massed ranks of the DUP, will survive and probably thrive.

    The only bespoke smoke signal she needs to keep an eye out for is that there is only one degree of separation between the DUB (as in Dublin media) and the DUP.


    Lookit , the DUBs are the DUP’s super subs
    Locked in a clinch like chums called Chubbs
    B.P. is snake oil
    Fit for the Royal
    Identical both, like sweepstake ticket stubs.

  10. giordanobruno January 28, 2017 at 3:16 pm #

    Good luck to her. It is welcome to finally see a move away from the old guard
    .I don’t get the whole attractive appearance thing I have to say and it seems a bit silly but whatever.
    It is not a great start though as it appears her department was busy promoting the RHI scheme well before Nolan got his teeth into it, and as Jude has pointed out anyone but an economic illiterate should have spotted the flaws.
    This may be one more reason that both the big parties will be happy to see RHI quietly sidelined in the next round of wheeling and dealing.

  11. Freddie mallins January 28, 2017 at 4:23 pm #

    Equivalence? Not this time dude.

  12. fiosrach January 28, 2017 at 5:08 pm #

    You can’t expect Michelle to be across every jot and tittle of some other department – especially when the minister of that department didn’t know what was going on. Keep trying. The unionist media will soon fall in behind.

    • giordanobruno January 28, 2017 at 5:28 pm #

      It didn’t wash for Arlene and I don’t think it will wash for Michelle.
      Actively promoting a scheme with such a serious and obvious flaw does not look good.

  13. fiosrach January 28, 2017 at 7:01 pm #

    In a spirit of cooperation Arlene asked her mate in government,Michelle, to organise a few meetings with farmers as they were too stupid to take advantage of the scheme themselves. What’s wrong with that?