The year 2023 has brought significant success for local para athletes, with many hoping to use successes as a catalyst for the 2024 Paralympic Games in Paris. To celebrate International Day of Disabled Persons 2023, we have highlighted some of the key achievements of Northern Irish athletes from various sports over the past year.


With star athlete, Claire Taggart, finishing 2022 as world champion in the BC2F category, boccia was finally put on the map in the Northern Ireland sport scene. World number one (BC2F), Taggart has continued to build on her World Championship performances by securing an individual bronze medal and a BC1/2 Team silver medal at the European Para Championships in Rotterdam, Gold at the Boccia World Cup and a 4th consecutive BC2 UK Championship Gold medal. A strong year, medalling at every international event, will bring lots of positivity for Taggart going into Paris in 2024.

Claire Taggart in action at the 2023 UK Boccia Championships

Claire Taggart in action at the 2023 UK Boccia Championships (photo credit – Boccia England)


BC3 athlete Robyn McBride, continues her journey as part of the Boccia UK World Class Programme, having made her international debut in 2022. Following her promising performance at the World Boccia Championships, Robyn has continued to develop and progressed to the knockout stages of another major event at the European Para Championships.

Robyn McBride in action at the 2023 UK Boccia Championships

Robyn McBride in action at the 2023 UK Boccia Championships (photo credit – Boccia England)


Elsewhere, the formation of the NI Boccia Academy will look to develop performance pathways for new and emerging talent within the sport. A 4th place finish in BC2 classification at the UK Championships for local athlete Scott Cromie and strong performances for BC3 athlete Daniel Elliott throughout the year provide signs of progress for the sport in NI.

Wheelchair Basketball

With the 2022 Wheelchair Basketball World Championships being postponed until this summer, Belfast’s James MacSorley was given the unusual opportunity to compete in both it and the European Para Championships in the same summer.  At the World Championships in Dubai, MacSorley and his Great Britain teammates narrowly missed out on gold losing to the USA by a single point in a nail biting final to take the silver medal. It was a different story at the European Para Championships however, as MacSorely added another gold medal to his collection with GB comprehensively beating Spain in the final in Rotterdam.

The wheelchair basketball talent pool does not stop with MacSorley, as Northern Irish athletes have continued to impress on the world stage. Matt Rollston competed at the International Men’s Senior Competition, won a bronze medal representing Ireland in European Division C Championships in Bosnia Herzegovina. Rising star Conn Nagle, fresh off a professional move to Italian side Amicacci Abruzzo, has continued to represent Great Britain A. Meanwhile Commonwealth Games teammate, Nathan McCabe, represented British Wheelchair Basketball Men’s U30 Squad who won Gold at Kitakyushu Champions Cup in Japan. In October, Katie Morrow headed to Thailand to represent Great Britain at the U25 Women’s World Championships. The squad went on to secure a silver medal at the competition, with Morrow being voted in the All-Star Team.

Additionally, the formation of the new NI Wheelchair Basketball Academy is ensuring that talented athletes have access to high performance training and competition within the sport. This has included teams competing in the British National League and the British Women’s League.

James MacSorley preparing to shoot basketball for Team GB wheelchair basketball

James MacSorley – Team GB Wheelchair Basketball



In August, Manchester played host to the 2023 Para Swimming World Championships in which Bethany Firth OBE took home 4 medals. Firth retained her gold medal in style with a championship record in the s14 100m Backstroke. She picked up another Gold in the S14 Individual Medley, a silver in the S14 200m Freestyle and a Bronze in S14 100m Butterfly.

Bethany Firth at the 2023 World Para Swimming Championship

Bethany Firth at the 2023 World Para Swimming Championship


Meanwhile Barry McClements represented Team Ireland and progressed to 3 finals including S9 400m Freestyle. 100m backstroke and 100m Butterfly. McClements, who won bronze at last year’s Commonwealth Games, again showing he can compete on the world stage securing a personal best in the 100m butterfly at the event. We can’t wait to see what the future holds for both these athletes.

Barry McClements with Commonwealth Games bronze medal at Swim Ulster Disability Swimming Championships

Barry McClements with Commonwealth Games bronze medal at Swim Ulster Disability Swimming Championships



In athletics, Paralympic legend Jason Smyth announced his retirement from the sport finishing his career as the fastest Paralympian of all time. The 6 time Paralympic gold medallist competed across 4 different cycles from 2008 to 2021 and remained undefeated in competitive Para Athletics events throughout his career. Smyth has taken up the role of Strategy Manager for Paralympics Ireland and will continue to influence para sports across Ireland.


Jason Smyth - Paralympics Ireland

Jason Smyth – Paralympics Ireland


Powerchair Football

In October, powerchair football in Northern Ireland went global as the Northern Ireland team qualified for the Powerchair World Cup in Sydney, Australia. The team got the chance to experience top level competition, with the round robin format providing the opportunity to test their skills against counterparts from across the globe. Victory in their final match against the familiar Republic of Ireland team provided a fitting send off. Northern Irish player Patrick Cumiskey was recipient of the Rale Rasic award, while the squad also received the New South Wales Government Fair Play Award for the tournament. Locally, Belfats based Trailblazers Powerchair Football Club were crowned Association of Irish Powerchair Football Champions 2022-23.

NI powerchair football squad at the World Championships in Australia

NI powerchair football squad at the World Championships in Australia



Badminton was also included in the inaugural European Para Championships, with athletes Christopher Stewart and Michael Smith representing Team Ireland, supported by local coach Leslie Dewart. Smith and Stewart competed as a pair in the WH1-WH2 event and competed individually in the WH1 class with Stewart reaching the last 16 knockout stage. The pair would finish the year on a high at UK Para Badminton Championships in Glasgow. Chris Stewart took home an individual gold in the WH1 Men’s Singles, a silver medal with partner Smith in the WH2 doubles and another silver in the WH1-WH2 mixed doubles with Fiona Christie (Scotland).


Triathlon Twins Chloe and Judith MacCombe both continue to look to earn qualification to the Paris Paralympics next year competing in para events across 2023. The pair competed in the Commonwealth Games last year, with Chloe putting a sensational silver medal performance and Judith narrowly missing a medal in 4th. Both athletes have followed up this year with strong performances, including several podiums, and sit 5th and 10th in qualification rankings respectively.


Archery NI became the latest national governing body to be presented with Disability Sport NI’s Inclusive Sport Award and will be looking to develop pathways for para athletes in the coming years. Early signs of these pathways came in November at the Indoor Senior Open Championship as Tony Barclay MBE became the Northern Ireland Champion.


Northern Ireland Judo’s Adaptive and VI squad programme has grown from strength to strength this year and is now reaping the rewards. The squad has grown to include 18 members from six clubs from across the province. Athletes have represented the NIJF at five major competitions since last year and players have medalled in each one. These competitions have ranged from the Welsh Adaptive and VI Open Championships x 2, the British Adaptive and VI open championships x 2 to the International Tipperary Open Championships.

NI Judo Adaptive and VI squad at Welsh Open

NI Judo Adaptive and VI squad at Welsh Open

Disability Sport NI’s Performance Pathways Manager, Rhian McCarroll, commented:

“It’s fantastic to see success across a broad range of sports for our Northern Ireland para athletes throughout 2023. 2024 will be an exciting year with athletes representing at the 2024 Paris Paralympic Games and we look forward to seeing our athletes take to the world stage. Hopefully, we can build on the success of this year and support more sports with the development of their pathways for para athletes, offering more opportunities for everyone.”