Northern Ireland

Sinn Féin: Francie Molloy says wrong time for leadership challenge

Michelle O'Neill Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Michelle O'Neill pictured with Mid Ulster MP Francie Molloy and Martin McGuinness in 2007

A Sinn Féin MP has said he is "disappointed" that John O'Dowd is challenging Michelle O'Neill for her position as party vice-president.

Last month Mr O'Dowd announced he was seeking nominations ahead of the party's ard fheis (annual conference).

On Thursday, Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew said she was backing Mr O'Dowd.

But Mid-Ulster MP Francie Molloy said it is the "wrong time" for a leadership contest.

Ms O'Neill became Sinn Féin's Stormont leader in 2017, before becoming vice-president a year later as the only candidate put forward for the role.

Mr O'Dowd is a former Stormont education minister and served as deputy first minister when Martin McGuinness ran in the Irish presidential election in 2011.

He has not yet set out his reasons for running.

Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption Michelle O'Neill and John O'Dowd were both ministers in the Stormont executive

Speaking to BBC's Inside Politics programme, Mr Molloy, a long-standing member of Sinn Féin, said he was concerned that there would be "very little that goes unchallenged" within the party in the future.

"I'm disappointed people have put in the challenge at this time before the leadership has been able to start delivering, with the assembly back up and running," he said.

"I don't see any difference in what John O'Dowd is saying about the political direction we're going in... I think if you're challenging you have to set out what's different from the present leadership."

Mr Molloy acknowledged there had been a shift in the party, after Gerry Adams had stepped down after more than 30 years as Sinn Féin president.

"We're in different times now, we're trying to drive politics forward, Brexit is a major issue and it's just the wrong time," he added.

This interview will appear on Inside Politics on BBC Radio Ulster on 13 September at 18:05 and is available on the BBC Sounds app as well.

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