Aontú is a new all Ireland political movement, founded following the resignation of our leader, Peadar Tobín, from Sinn Féin because of his conscientious objection to the permissive abortion legislation promulgated by the party.
The TD for Meath said “my job, nor any politician’s job, is not worth the life of a single child”. The party seeks to promote life, unity and social justice.
For those of us here in the north who agree with him, and are very concerned with Sinn Féin’s petitioning of the British Government to impose abortion legislation here against the stated wishes of the electorate (and in contravention to their refutation of “British authority” here), his launch of a new all-Ireland party was a call to action.
Despite having no money, no wealthy donors, no offices nor staff, no political experience, and only three months to do it, we pledged out to offer candidates in the local government election in as many places as we could manage. We press-ganged family and friends to help.
We drew up canvass rotas, designed leaflets and posters, set up social media profiles, and arranged postal drops (my cards were addressed using a programme written by my son on a battered old Epson in our back room till three am one night!)
We borrowed ladders, or conscripted local tradesmen to climb lampposts and affix cable-ties. To set up a bank account took six weeks. To get it in the black may take longer!
Our posters were torn down and defaced. We replaced them. We experienced abuse, character assassination and vitriol on social media. We ignored it.
We were heckled and harassed in some places. We carried on regardless.
We put on our stout shoes –thankfully waterproofs were not required thanks to the most beautiful spring in recent years – and knocked on doors.
There we presented our case, and in the main, people listened and engaged.
In some cases, those who had felt unable to vote for many years pledged support.
The unease which many good people felt about the unseemly haste with which the most permissive abortion legislation in Europe was rushed in in the south, and their fears that the same would be imposed here was real.
There was frustration at the stalemate in Stormont, and anger about the real hardship that lack of governance was causing to our most vulnerable. There were jokes about the easy money the politicians were getting while their community worked two or three jobs to make ends meet, or visited foodbanks.
But many admitted, albeit with wry smiles and shoulder shrugs, that they would still vote for the same people they always did.
After all, in this wee state, a gain for one side is a loss for the other, no matter how bitter the pill.
Despite insuperable odds, Aontú succeeded in having one councillor elected, and in securing 6-7% of the first preference votes in constituencies where we put candidates forward.
Given the resources at our disposal, this was a commendable achievement. There is an expression in Irish – tús maith, leath na h-oibre (a good start is the work half done). We will be better and stronger the next time, we’ll have a clue where we had none before, and we’ll start a month earlier! Not for the faint-hearted, but better to light a candle than curse the dark.
l Dr Anne Mc Closkey, MB; a GP and now Aontu’s sole councillor in Northern Ireland (representing the Ballyarnett part of Londonderry)