Who is Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill? The teenage mum determined not to be written off

Politics

Northern Ireland’s new first minister-elect, Michelle O’Neill, says being a teenage mother made her the person she is.

The Sinn Fein deputy leader has spoken candidly about becoming pregnant with her daughter Saoirse at the age of 16.

She said: “Being a young mum, well it’s my life experience, it made me what I am, it makes you stronger, I think.

“I know what it’s like to be in difficult situations. I know what it’s like to struggle, I know what it’s like to go to school and have a baby at home.

“At that time, you’re talking 1993, society still, compared with today, was a very different place.

“You were neatly put in a box: single mother, unmarried mother, nearly written off.

“But I was determined that I wasn’t going to be written off, that I was going to work hard and make a good life for her.”

More on Michelle O’neill

Ms O’Neill, 45, is set to become the first Sinn Fein politician to lead Northern Ireland after her party’s historic election win.

She comes from a staunchly Irish republican family in Clonoe, County Tyrone.

Her father, Brendan Doris, was an IRA prisoner, her uncle Paul Doris one of three IRA men shot dead by the SAS in 1991 and her cousin Gareth Doris, an IRA member shot and wounded by the army in 1997.

Ms O’Neill joined Sinn Fein after the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 at the age of 21 and inherited her late father’s council seat.

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Sky News interviews Michelle O’Neill

Elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2007, she served as agriculture minister, then health minister.

But it was the death of Martin McGuinness in 2017 that saw her elevated to the position of Sinn Fein vice-president and ultimately, deputy first minister.

In an interview with Sky News earlier this year, Ms O’Neill dismissed any doubt about Stormont being ready for a Sinn Fein first minister.

A man walks past an election poster for Sinn Fein showing Michelle O'Neill in Stewartstown, Co Tyrone, as voters cast their vote in the 2022 NI Assembly election. Picture date: Thursday May 5, 2022.

She said: “We’re a society that comes from conflict and we have had a very difficult past.

“We also have to recognise that we’ve all had a very different experience of the past.”

Speaking in 2020, during her only joint interview with Arlene Foster, then the first minister, Ms O’Neill told Sky News of their “common ground” both as mothers and daughters.

“I think sometimes people think politicians are a people apart, that somehow we live a different reality, but our reality is the same as everybody else’s,” she added.

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