Michelle O’Neill has said that taking over from “political giant” Martin McGuinness as Sinn Féin’s leader in Northern Ireland is “truly the biggest honour and privilege” of her life.

The appointment of the 40-year-old mother-of-two, from Clonoe in Co Tyrone, represents a generational shift for the party.

Ms O’Neill will now lead Sinn Féin into a snap Assembly election within weeks.

“No-one can replace Martin but what I can do is to continue his good work to unite our people and to unite our country,” she said.

I knew she was made of strong stuff.

Martin McGuinness, Sinn Féin

Mr McGuinness resigned as deputy First Minister in protest over the DUP’s handling of the controversial Renewable Heat Incentive scheme.

That move triggered the collapse of the institutions and an election had to be called.

However, Mr McGuinness then announced that he would not stand for re-election to Stormont, given his battle with serious illness.

The current health minister was swiftly tipped as a frontrunner to take over the reins.

I feel an enormous responsibility on my shoulders and, while I don’t underestimate my task given the changing political world - locally, nationally and internationally - I will not let you down.

Michelle O’Neill, Sinn Féin

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams and vice-president Mary Lou McDonald were present at Parliament Buildings on Monday for the announcement of Ms O’Neill as leader.

“As a united all-Ireland team, we will give her the space and support to find her own voice and continue the good work Martin pioneered,” Mr Adams said.

Mr McGuinness also paid tribute to his successor, hailing her as a “people’s politician”.

He added: “Change happens and we are now witnessing big change today.”

The former deputy First Minister further added that Ms O’Neill had proved her fortitude and credentials when facing down anti-peace process elements within republicanism in Co Tyrone.

“She refused to be intimated and continued to build support for Sinn Féin,” he said.

  • UTV Political Editor Ken Reid on the new Sinn Fein leader at Stormont