FORMER world handball champion Aisling Reilly is set to take over from Fra McCann as MLA for West Belfast in the coming days.
The sports star has won multiple handball World and All-Ireland championships and various other international accolades during her career.
A Gaelgeoir and former Bunscoil Phobal Feirste and Coláiste Feirste pupil, Aisling is a member of St Paul’s GAC where she remains a coach. She has been a member of several national youth developmental committees and was also an Ambassador of Sport with Sport NI.
The 32-year-old Sinn Féin member has worked closely with West Belfast MP Paul Maskey on development projects across the constituency and in recent months has been working as a party press officer. She is also pursuing a degree with The Open University in Business and Management.
Speaking after her selection, Aisling said that it is a privilege to have been selected to represent the people of West Belfast as the new Sinn Féin MLA.
"This is an exciting time for politics on the island of Ireland, with growing demand for change and a flourishing conversation on a new and united Ireland," she said. "As a community activist, I am passionate about ensuring our community has a strong voice reflecting the needs of families and workers. And it is the voice of communities that I will bring into the heart of the Assembly."
The handball champ said she wanted to drive transformative change on the ground.
"I will be working to deliver more homes, better jobs and world-class leisure and health facilities to promote positive physical and mental health," she said. "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."
Welcoming the announcement, Sinn Féin Leas-Uachtarán, Michelle O’Neill said she is delighted that Aisling Reilly has been selected as the new MLA for Sinn Féin and West Belfast.
“Aisling Reilly will bring a great deal of enthusiasm and energy to our Assembly team at such a crucial time for politics across the island of Ireland," she said.
“It is particularly fantastic to have a proud Gaelgeoir who has emerged from the flourishing Irish medium schools of West Belfast on our team."
Fra McCann’s retirement from frontline politics comes in the wake of his constituency colleague and Speaker of the Assembly Alex Maskey announcing that he will not seek reelection in the May 2022 poll.
Sinn Féin will be under pressure to defend their four Assembly seats in West Belfast.
Although Órlaithí Flynn topped the poll for the party in the 2017 Assembly election, Pat Sheehan was elected on the last count without reaching the quota. In the 2019 Westminster election, Paul Maskey saw his majority drop by almost 13 per cent.
Current polling suggest that Sinn Féin are on track to finish as the largest party in the Assembly after the next election, reflecting their growing support across the island.