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Michelle O'Neill named new Sinn Fein leader in Northern Ireland

Michelle O'Neill the new Sinn Fein leader in the north with Martin Mc Guinness

However, she will have to spearhead talks aimed at forming a ministerial executive; with the DUP and Sinn Féin at odds over a host of issues including the Irish language.

Sinn Fein's ard comhairle agreed at a meeting yesterday...

Michelle O'Neill will lead Sinn Féin into the Northern Ireland Assembly elections in March, the party confirmed on Monday afternoon.

The 40-year-old Mid Ulster Assembly member takes over as the republican party's leader in Northern Ireland weeks before a snap election.

The crisis was triggered when Mr McGuinness quit as deputy first minister over a botched renewable energy scheme set up by first minister Arlene Foster before she became DUP leader.

Ms O'Neill, 40, now serves as Northern Ireland's minister for health.

At a press conference in Belfast, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams described O'Neill as the "new generation" who would "continue the good work Martin pioneered". In 2011, she was appointed Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development.

The former IRA commander played a key role in the peace process, and Ms O'Neill said: "I have no doubt I am following in the footsteps of a political giant - the man is a legend".

She is the first female leader for the party in Northern Ireland.

However referring to Martin McGuinness' statement that there could be no return to the status quo at Stormont, she added, "There is an opportunity for an absolute step change and fix something that is wrong".

"The British government is clearly on a collision course with the European Union in which our economy and peace agreements are regarded as collateral damage", O'Neill said, after embracing McGuinness whom she described as a political giant.

"I look forward to continuing to work closely with Michelle in her new role".

"We must defend the democratic mandate of the people to remain within the European Union".