Political news

Catherine Seeley becomes Sinn Féin's second MLA not to stand for re-election

Catherine Seeley, who was elected as an MLA in May last year, will not be standing for re-election. Picture by Mal McCann
John Monaghan and Gareth McKeown

CATHERINE Seeley has become the second prominent Sinn Féin MLA to announce she will not be seeking re-election.

The decision by the Upper Bann representative, who has said she wants to return to teaching, follows the withdrawal of former education minister Caitríona Ruane from the South Down race.

It remains unclear whether former Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, who attended the assembly yesterday, will defend his seat in Foyle amid health issues.

Newry and Armagh MLA Conor Murphy, who is among the front-runners to lead the party into the election, said yesterday that Mr McGuiness would decide his future "in the next couple of days".

Ms Seeley (29) has been an MLA for just eight months, having been elected in May last year alongside John O'Dowd as one of the six Upper Bann representatives.

The party has not announced if it will again run two candidates, with only five assembly members due to be returned in each constituency this year.

In a tight race last May, Sinn Fein gained a seat through Ms Seeley at the expense of veteran SDLP politician Dolores Kelly, who has indicated that she will put her name forward again.

In reply to a question on Facebook, she wrote: "May as well give it a go otherwise I would always wonder what if! Will be very tough..."

Ms Seeley, who will be an election agent for the party, said it had "not been an easy decision" for her, but she was motivated by an opportunity "to return to teaching".

In 2014, the former deputy mayor of Craigavon quit her teaching post at the Boys' Model School in Belfast after receiving online abuse.

Her announcement yesterday also prompted abuse on Twitter, which was condemned.

Political commentator Chris Donnelly said her departure is a "bad loss" for Sinn Féin.

"She represented the party's solitary electoral gain in last year's assembly election and was widely viewed as a rising star, one of the few from the current crop of MLAs capable of being entrusted with ministerial office."

Meanwhile, there will not be a return to Stormont for former Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA Phil Flanagan.

Sinn Féin held a selection convention for the Fermanagh area in Enniskillen on Sunday and two candidates were chosen - sitting MLA Sean Lynch and newcomer Jemma Dolan.

Former agriculture minister Michelle Gildernew was selected as the party's representative from South Tyrone last night.

It is understood Mr Flanagan, who was last year ordered to pay MP Tom Elliott almost £50,000 in damages over a libellous tweet, did not put himself forward as a candidate.

Last year Sinn Féin ran four candidates - Seán Lynch, Michelle Gildernew, Phil Flanagan and John Feely - after running three selection conventions.

It lost one of its three seats to the SDLP's Richie McPhillips, as only Mr Lynch and Ms Gildernew were elected.

Jemma Dolan (26), from Belleek, is a former press officer for Sinn Féin in the European Parliament in Brussels.

Seán Lynch described the selection of the party candidates as "seamless" and said that both Phil Flanagan and John Feely remain members of Sinn Féin.

Mr McPhillips confirmed that he will put himself forward for selection again.

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