VIDEO: Sinn Fein leaders descend on Clonoe to celebrate one half of possible ‘Chuckle sisters’

Sinn Fein’s leadership received a warm reception in Clonoe last night at a Homecoming celebration for Michelle’ O’Neill’s new role within the party.

And while much of the night was spent praising “the next First Minister”, there was still time to rally the troops for the upcoming election.

Gerry Adams, Michelle O'Neill and Martin McGuinness in Clonoe

Gerry Adams, Michelle O'Neill and Martin McGuinness in Clonoe

Speaking to an enthusiastic crowd, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said: “Monday was a huge day for Martin and the McGuinness family. It was a huge day for Sinn Fein... and I know it was a brilliant day for Michelle. I know her father Brendan would have been very very proud, and that her mother Kathleen - who’s here is very very proud, and Ryan and Saoirse.

“Now of course Michelle O’Neill needs to grow into the job, and needs to find her voice, and she’ll have our support as she continues the work that Martin pioneered.”

On a lighter note, Mr Adams said he was struck with a new name for Michelle and Arlene - should they join each other in OFMDFM in the future.

“I was listening to the DUP giving off earlier on and messing about and trying to distract attention from their own difficulties,” he went on, “and I could see it - the Chuckle sisters - and that’s what Arlene’s afraid of.”

Francie Molloy Mp, Michelle O'Neill and Martin McGuinness celebrate her new position

Francie Molloy Mp, Michelle O'Neill and Martin McGuinness celebrate her new position

Francie Molloy then introduced “legend of republicanism” Martin McGuinness, whom he said “changed the face of politics in Mid Ulster, right across the island of Ireland, and indeed across the world”.

Addressing the crowd Mr McGuinness spoke fondly of his time representing Mid Ulster, and continued to promote the spirit of reconciliation he said he came away with the day he met Nelson Mandela in South Africa.

“We met one of the greatest reconcilers that the world has ever seen,” he said. “The reconciliation theme that oozed out of Mandela was emblazoned in my head.

But he added: “I know reconciliation can be a tough word for people who’ve been hurt as a result of conflict.

Linda Dillon and Ian Milne present for Mid Ulster MP and MLA Martin McGuinness with local tokens of appreciation

Linda Dillon and Ian Milne present for Mid Ulster MP and MLA Martin McGuinness with local tokens of appreciation

“Unionists need to get their heads around it because everyone else is beside them - every one of Ireland’s 32 counties - we are the only people who care about them.

“The British government don’t care about the unionists,” he went on. “They don’t care about any of us, and the Brexit decision clearly shows how little they care about anybody on the island of Ireland.

Saying he was honoured to have represented Mid Ulster, Mr McGuinness went on to praise his predecessor and outline the reasons he chose her.

“She’s not behind the door on speaking up, and speaking her mind and that’s what I like about her. I could identify from a very early stage that this young woman had a big future in our party,” he said.

“To be truthful with all of youse, she was the one that I wanted to replace me as Deputy First Minister - I think I made a good choice. She is someone that I have tremendous faith in and I think she is going to be an absolute star.”

And MP Francie Molloys appeared to agree, he told the crowd: “We are looking at the next First Minister of the north.”

Grateful for the opportunity to try, Ms O’Neill thanked everyone for their congratulations and spoke of her pride at being chosen to follow McGuinness.

“I can’t thank you enough,” she said. “I am truly honoured.”

Saying she wished her father could have been there to share in her achievement, Ms O’Neill told the crowd “challenging times” lay ahead, but said, continuing in the “footsteps of a political giant” she would continue to fight for equality - not just for republicans - but for women, minorities, same sex couples and those “being forced to leave the European Union against their express wishes”.