‘My political career is all down to David’

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Claire Sugden will officially be sworn in as MLA this morning (Tuesday) at Stormont.

It’s been a whirlwind few months for the 27-year-old, who only took up her Council seat back in December.

By taking up her seat, the former Coleraine High School pupil, will become the youngest Unionist MLA in the Assembly - and one of only three under the age of 30.

She told The Times this week that it has always been her dream to be an MLA, but added that taking over David McClarty’s seat at Stormont is ‘bitter sweet’.

“David and I had spoken about this long before he took ill.

“When I received the official letter from the Electoral Office I was very emotional, David has left me a great gift.

“My dream has always to be an MLA, but given the circumstances I can’t feel excited or happy about my elevation just at the moment.”

Claire will be officially sworn in as an MLA at Stormont this morning (Tuesday), and she plans to sit in during the morning debate just to break the ice.

“There are lots of formalities before I can actually speak, “ she told The Times.

“The Assembly is all about the political parties. As an Independent I will be last to speak on any debate, but I know the system well, and I will be able to use it to my advantage.

“As the only Independent in the Assembly David was able to have a strong voice and represent the people of East Londonderry, and I want to do just the same.

“David built so many relationships, he was a people person, and I want to carry that on.”

Paying tribute to her friend and colleague, Claire added: “Every opportunity I have had in my career has been down to David, and I feel very privileged to be where I am today.

“People have been telling me that I will be living in David’s shadow, but I say to them that I am happy to live in David’s light. I want to represent the people of this area to the best of my ability. My approach is doing what is right, to be an advocate, like David was.”

Claire admitted that she has often been criticised for being too confident.

“I have to be confident, as a young MLA I know I am up against it.

“If I am not confident within myself then how can I be confident for the people that I represent - to lobby on their behalf.”

Last week Claire officially withdrew her nomination for the Causeway Coast Council.

“This was hard for me.

“One of the last things that David did for me was nominate me for the forthcoming election.

“But I cannot be an MLA and a councillor so had I continued I would have had to nominate someone to take up my seat.

“The Assembly seat is bigger - I can reach out to more people and carry on David’s good work. And that’s what I want to do.”