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Sinn Féin begin selection of candidates for Assembly elections

Sinn Féin has not announced if Martin McGuinness will defend his Foyle seat in the Assembly election

SINN Féin selected candidates for almost half of the 18 Assembly constituencies at the weekend - but it remains unclear whether former Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness will defend his seat in Foyle.

Appearing extremely frail at the announcement of his resignation on Monday, Mr McGuinness side-stepped a question about whether he would stand in an upcoming election, replying that the subject was "for another day".

Mr McGuinness became an MLA for Foyle in May last year, having represented Mid-Ulster in the Assembly for almost two decades since the Good Friday Agreement.

Yesterday a Sinn Féin spokesman said that there was no fixed deadline for holding selection conventions and that a selection meeting in Foyle would be "up to the local members to arrange".

The spokesman said that he was "not aware" if Mr McGuinness would attend Stormont for proceedings today and said that decision "would be up to Martin".

The former deputy first minister has insisted his health had "nothing to do with his decision to quit" and said he had "always considered my health a private matter”.

Mr McGuinness tweeted at the weekend that a hug from his granddaughter on returning home from meetings with Irish and British governments on Thursday was "the highlight" of his week.

He tweeted: "Thurs - after meeting with Irish & Brit Govts went home, granddaughter Sadhbh (17mths), gave me the biggest, tightest hug. Highlight of my week."

The Irish News last week reported that sources close to Sinn Féin had indicated that former Mayor of Derry Elisha McCallion is already being lined up to stand in the Foyle seat currently occupied by Mr McGuinness.

If an election goes ahead as expected, each constituency will lose one MLA with the reduction in the numbers of seats from 108 to 90.

In constituencies where the party has declared candidates so far, there are few changes to the Sinn Féin line-up.

South Down MLA Caitríona Ruane is the only elected member to state that she will not be seeking re-election.

In East Derry, Cathal Ó hOisín has been confirmed to run alongside current MLA Caoimhe Archibald as the party makes an ambitious attempt to get two MLAs elected.

In May's election, Mr Ó hOisín, who was the sitting MLA at the time, was pipped to the post by Ms Archibald in a close-run contest.

In East Belfast, councillor Mairéad O'Donnell, who replaced Niall O'Donnaghaile on Belfast City Council, will attempt to win the party's first ever Assembly seat in the constituency.

In other areas, the party has focused its energy on defending the seats belonging to its sitting MLAs, aiming to retain four seats in West Belfast- three in Mid-Ulster and three in West Tyrone.

Philip McGuigan has been selected to run in North Antrim, less than a year after he replaced Daithí McKay, who resigned amidst accusations he 'coached' prominent loyalist Jamie Bryson ahead of his appearance before a Stormont committee probing the Nama property deal.

Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir will be the party's only candidate in South Belfast, where he topped the poll in May, while Oliver McMullan is also expected to be Sinn Féin's sole candidate in East Antrim.

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