Following Michelle Gildernew’s announcement that the next election she will be contesting will be the European elections in June, the Sinn Féin Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP admitted it was a “wrench” to come to the decision but ultimately it is the right decision.

On Monday the politician announced her intentions to run for Europe and with that vacate her MP seat.

Ms Gildernew has forged her political career in Fermanagh and South Tyrone having first been elected to Stormont in 1998 before becoming an MP in 2001.

And apart from a time from 2015 to 2017 when she lost the seat to Ulster Unionist, Tom Elliott she has been an ever-present figure in the constituency.

Having invested and spent so much time in one place will inevitably create bonds and relationships that have strengthened and endured over time.

And this was no different for Ms Gildernew, who informed Sinn Féin activists and party members about the decision recently.

“I briefed the activists recently and it was very hard to actually say those words,” said Ms Gildernew who added: “Because we’ve been through so much together - highs and lows, drenchings and founderings and all the rest of it.

“And the people of Fermanagh, and particularly as a Tyrone woman, the people of Fermanagh have really taken me to their heart and I have just loved being an elected representative for this constituency and for the amazing people Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

“I have made so many friends and will continue to maintain those relationships. It definitely is a wrench.

“I would never have come to this [decision] myself. I was flummoxed when I was asked.

“And my immediate instinct was to say no. But then when I thought it through and talked to my family and took soundings from people whose whose judgement I trust, I realised that I could take the needs of this constituency to a new level.”

Ms Gildernew hopes to contest the European Elections for the Midlands Northwest constituency.

While she has yet to be officially nominated to run for Sinn Féin she believes it is the right thing to do and will also benefit the people of Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

“I think it’s the right thing to do. And I think as part of a strong Sinn Féin team in Europe, we’re talking for the island of Ireland.

“I think ultimately that will benefit the people of Fermanagh and South Tyrone in a new forum.

“So I’m excited about the opportunity and I’m always up for a challenge.”

The Sinn Féin MP paid tribute to former MEP Martina Anderson who she said did “amazing” work in the run-up to Brexit and with no Northern representation in Europe, this is something that needs to change.

She is hoping that in June this will be the case and Sinn Féin returns two MEPs for the constituency with sitting MEP, Chris MacManus retaining his seat.

But what if Ms Gildernew fails to win a seat in Europe? Will she look to run in the UK General Election which is expected to be held in November?

“Let’s cross that bridge when we come to it.

“I’m not on the ballot yet. I still have to get the nomination. So, I still have a lot of people to talk to.

“If my name goes forward let’s see what happens after that. So come back and ask me that in June.”

And if successful, who is the likely replacement?

Due to the close proximity of the elections, a by-election is unlikely so Sinn Féin have a bit of time in choosing a replacement.

While naming no names, Ms Gildernew said whoever does replace her will have her full support: “I’ve spoken to a lot of people and I may have spoken to my replacement in the dozens and dozens and dozens of conversations I’ve had over the past day or two, but I don’t know.

“We’re in a really strong position. We’ve got three excellent MLAs, they all bring something different.

“We’ve got a team of councillors, we’ve got other activists who potentially would want to put their name forward.

“There’s no decision made on this. This is going to the membership of the party and Fermanagh and South Tyrone. And it’ll be up to the members to decide who my replacement is.

“But whoever that is, has my 100 per cent support and I look forward to canvassing with them for them in the run-up to the election.”

So, there could be a new face of Sinn Féin in Fermanagh and South Tyrone for the next General Election.

And the one moving on to new challenges has so many memories and advice for whoever that may be: “There are too many high points to even pick one out.

“But I’ve been I’ve been representing Fermanagh and South Tyrone first in an election here when I was 26.

“And I’ve grown up in this constituency. And it’s a really special place and the person who replaces me, I hope they feel as lucky and as privileged as I do to be an MP for the unbelievable people of Fermanagh and South Tyrone.”