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Sinn Fein selects former world handball champion Aisling Reilly as new west Belfast MLA


New Sinn Fein MLA Aisling Reilly

New Sinn Fein MLA Aisling Reilly

New Sinn Fein MLA Aisling Reilly

Sinn Fein has selected former world handball champion Aisling Reilly as their new MLA for the west Belfast constituency.

The winner of the World and All-Ireland handball championships will replace current party MLA Fra McCann who is not contesting the next election.

The 32-year-old party member is expected to take the seat in the coming days, marking a significant departure from a sporting career in which she reached the heights of senior ladies world number one.

Ms Reilly has previous experience as a civil servant and has worked alongside MP Paul Maskey on a number of community development projects. She has also had a role as a party press officer in recent months.

Mr McCann previously announced his plans to retire from frontline politics citing ill health.

The 68-year-old also said he wanted to care for his wife who is recovering in hospital after developing Covid-19.

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The veteran Sinn Fein politician was first elected as a party councillor to Belfast City Council in 1987 and became an MLA in 2003.

He was diagnosed in late 2019 with prostate cancer.

A former "blanket man” who joined the republic movement in his teens, Mr McCann was jailed for IRA membership during the 1970s.

He said that after lengthy conversations with family and friends, he decided not to contest the next Assembly election.

Speaking after the party confirmed her as Mr McCann’s replacement, Ms Reilly said: "As a community activist, I am passionate about ensuring our community has a strong voice reflecting the needs of families and workers.

“I will be working to deliver more homes, better jobs and world-class leisure and health facilities to promote positive physical and mental health.

"As an all-Ireland and world handball champion, I understand that to achieve anything in life you require determination, perseverance and passion. That’s the same approach I will bring to delivering for the people of West Belfast as we move towards building a new, modern and united Ireland."

Sinn Fein’s Northern Ireland leader Michelle O’Neill said Ms Reilly would bring “a great deal of enthusiasm and energy” to the party’s Assembly team.

“It is particularly fantastic to have a proud Gaelgeoir [Irish speaker] who has emerged from the flourishing Irish medium schools of West Belfast on our team,” Ms O’Neill added.

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