New pro-life party '˜will have seven Northern Ireland councillors'

A new pro-life republican party hopes to have a total of seven Sinn Fein or SDLP councillors defecting to it in time for the local government elections in May.

Monday, 7th January 2019, 5:46 pm
Updated Thursday, 10th January 2019, 2:42 pm
Ex-Sinn Fein TD Peadar Toibin hopes to lead a new all-Ireland pro-life republican party

A new pro-life republican party hopes to have a total of seven Sinn Fein or SDLP councillors defecting to it in time for the local government elections in May.

The leader of the fledgling party, former Sinn Fein TD Peadar Toibin, says he left the party after his vocal pro-life views clashed with its liberal abortion policy adopted last year.

“We hope to be standing about 10-15 candidates in the [NI] local government elections in May,” he told the News Letter.

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He hopes seven of them will be current NI councillors from the SDLP or Sinn Fein.

The TD addressed a public meeting of supporters in Maghera, Co Londonderry last month and plans other meetings in Omagh on January 9, Newry on January 23, Belfast on January 28 and Armagh on February 4.

Having been taking formal membership applications since Saturday, they now have 1,400 he said.

Forty people attended the party’s first executive meeting on Saturday where they agreed a constitution and structure.

The name has not yet been announced while the party waits to see if it is accepted in official registration – and to reserve internet domains.

He said: “One issue of great concern raised at Maghera was that Stormont is still in cold storage while people are suffering food, housing and heating poverty.”

The consensus was that this was due to “one dysfunctional party [the DUP] putting the Good Friday Agreement into cold storage” in part due to its refusal to deal with “a very simple and weak Irish language act”.

He added: “There was just astonishment that both Sinn Fein and the DUP have been allowed to put the Good Friday Agreement into cold storage for two years.”

His NI supporters reject the current system whereby Sinn Fein and the DUP “divide up and split the spoils to suit their own objectives and areas”.

And there is a strong belief among them that the Belfast Agreement needs to be amended because it was written before Brexit.

Martin McGuinness’ brother Declan McGuinness has officially signed up and is “interested” in standing for election, while ex-Sinn Fein councillors Francie and Ann Brolly are also thinking of standing, he said.

There is still an internal discussion about free votes on a range of abortion issues, however the constitution will be “100% pro life” he added.

Co Tyrone SDLP councillor Rosemarie Shields has confirmed she is defecting to the new party.

Ms Shields said she personally knows some SDLP members and those “from another party” who are also considering moving to Peadar Toibin’s new party.

“There is a lot of interest from party members generally and elected representatives,” she told the News Letter.

She was attracted by the party’s emphasis on “economic justice” in a time when she said most other parties appeared to have become “right of centre”.

“I also respect the fact that Peadar is a person of honesty and integrity which is sadly missing in politics today,” she added.

The new party’s pro-life position was also a significant factor for her.

An SDLP spokesperson said: “The timing of councillor Shields’ announcement is interesting given that the party is in the process of selecting candidates for the council elections.

“Councillor Shields’ lack of commitment to her role has been a matter of concern for some time now and that would obviously have been a factor in the party’s decision on whether to run her as a candidate again or not. We wish Rosemarie all the best.”

But Ms Shields hit back that the SDLP has not yet selected any candidates for the local government election in that area.

“I was dedicated to my role as a public representative,” she said. “Although it is notable that the SDLP has lost four councillors in Strabane and Omagh in recent times.”

She put the loss of seats down to senior management in the party.