Independent MLA Claire Sugden made her maiden speech at Stormont last week - a speech that was tinged with sadness as she remembered her predecessor, David McClarty.
The 28-year-old, who is a former pupil of Coleraine High School, is one of the youngest elected members in Stormont.
Sugden, who is proud of her Coleraine roots, took over David McClarty’s East Londonderry seat following his passing earlier this year.
In her first speech, in which she supported the education bill, the Independent MLA paid tribute to her predecessor, and described her first few months in the top spot in politics in Northern Ireland as ‘a challenge and a steep learning curve.’
Assuring her constituents that she was capable of the job ahead, she said:” I assure the House that, as an MLA, I am very capable of holding the Northern Ireland Executive to account, and doing the job that we are here to do for the best interests of my constituents.”
Paying tribute to the late David McClarty, the MLA went on: “The passing of my predecessor, my boss and, most of all, my dear friend David McClarty was heartbreaking.
“In life and death, David was and remains an important influence in my life. He was my mentor, he was my guide, and he is the politician whom I would be honoured to become. I am privileged to sit here after him. The reaction to his passing was comforting, because Coleraine — in fact, Northern Ireland — loved him as much as I did. As an independent politician, David did not move political mountains, but he achieved much more, because he connected with the people whom he represented and helped them.
“As politicians — as elected representatives — that is one thing that we should all strive to do. All politics is local, and political parties in the House would do well to remember that for the benefit of Northern Ireland.”
The Coleraine woman went on: “If anything, these past few months have been invigorating for me. I have been given a unique opportunity to serve the people of East Londonderry and to be their advocate and champion. I pay tribute to my constituents, because, indirectly, I have been given a mandate to serve them, and I will honour that as best I can.”