Sinn Féin’s vice president has insisted there is no bad blood between her and the Stormont colleague vying for her job.
Michelle O’Neill said she and John O’Dowd were “comrades”, and would remain so whatever the outcome of the contest for the senior leadership role.
Mr O’Dowd, a former Stormont education minister, confirmed at the weekend his intention to challenge Mrs O’Neill for the post of vice president.
It was an unexpected development in a party known for its internal discipline and desire for a unified approach to leadership transitions.
Mr O’Dowd is hoping to secure nominations from party colleagues ahead of a likely challenge at November’s Sinn Féin conference, Ard Fheis, in Derry.
“I am more than happy for John to put his name forward,” Mrs O’Neill said.
“I have spoken to him about it. We are comrades, we will be comrades through the election campaign and afterwards.
“Ultimately, the party membership will decide. I too will go forward and seek the endorsement of the party and refresh my mandate which they gave me at the last Ard Fheis.
“This is the nature of politics. It’s open, it’s democratic, it’s the nature of the party.
“I am more than happy to go out and talk to the membership about what I offer and John will do the same.
“It’s the nature of democracy, it’s the nature of the party. I think, as time goes on, these things will happen more and more often. That’s the constitution of the party, so John is more than entitled to put his name forward.”
Mr O’Dowd’s move comes in the wake of the party’s poor performance in the European and local council elections in the south in May.
Sinn Féin lost two of its four MEPs and around half of its councillors.
Mrs O’Neill was attending an election planning meeting at Stormont today.
Mr O’Dowd was not present as the meeting got under way. It is understood he was involved in constituency business.
Mrs O’Neill became vice president in January 2018 when her predecessor Mary Lou McDonald succeeded the retiring Gerry Adams as president.
A year earlier, Mrs O’Neill was appointed the party’s Stormont leader after the late Martin McGuinness stood down on health grounds.
Today, she was asked whether she would have to relinquish her position at Stormont, and a potential job as deputy first minister in a resurrected Stormont, if Mr O’Dowd became party vice president.
Mrs O’Neill stressed that the roles of Stormont leader and vice president were not connected.
“Remember, I was the party leader here (at Stormont) in terms of the Assembly team before I was Leas Uachtarán (vice president),” she said.
“That’s the position that still stands, that is my role. I was put into this role as a result of Martin (McGuinness) standing down and ultimately his death, and that remains the position.”