Belfast Telegraph

'Being pro-life, to me it is not complicated... you just can't kill things, it is that simple'

GP Anne McCloskey became anti-abortion republican party Aontu's first elected representative this month. She talks to Donna Deeney about her life and views

Anne McCloskey relaxes at home
Anne McCloskey relaxes at home
Anne McCloskey with husband Dr John Hill and children Breandan, Joe, Sinead and Meadbh
Anne McCloskey with her family
Anne McCloskey celebrates her election to Derry and Strabane District Council
Donna Deeney

By Donna Deeney

Q. You are about to take a seat on Derry and Strabane District Council for Aontu as its only elected member. Why did you decide to run for the party?

A. I have been a republican all my life. I joined Sinn Fein when I was a medical student, although I wasn't particularly a party person.

I didn't leave Sinn Fein, Sinn Fein left me. I am a republican, I am pro-women and Aontu offered me an alternative as a republican who is pro-life, pro-women, pro-family but still an absolute republican in the historic context of Wolfe Tone and the United Irishmen who wanted this island for everybody, uniting Protestant, Catholic, dissenter. In that context I could not stay within Sinn Fein.

In Aontu we recognise there must be a new way of looking at politics and a new way of looking at society, a way of putting the culture wars away where they belong, and instead look at the things we have in common and work there.

Q. Were you disappointed no one else secured a seat for the party in any of the other council areas?

A. Given where we started from just three months ago, I think our performance was remarkable.

We don't have staff, we don't have premises, we don't have any money, we don't have any wealthy backers, so we are starting from nothing.

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Across the north, in places where we stood candidates, we got between six and seven per cent in the first preference votes. We spread the message as wide as we could.

After I was elected people were asking me was this a personal vote, and the answer to that was an unequivocal no.

Although I worked there, we have patients from Claudy to the border. Some of it was a personal vote because they know me, but if they didn't agree with me they wouldn't have voted for me.

I think it is easier in a city. The two candidates in Belfast did very well but the candidates standing in rural areas, working on their own with these vast areas to cover is a Trojan effort. Obviously I would have loved 18 people to have been elected.

Q. You will be one of a number of new faces and new parties to the council, along with Alliance and People Before Profit. Why do you think the face of local politics has changed so much in Derry and Strabane this time and did the death of Lyra McKee have an impact?

A. Derry people are politically very astute and they see what is happening. They see the cronyism that goes on around them from a lot of the established parties.

While I am not singling out any party in particular, they see that stuff isn't working.

I have four children and none of them will ever work in this city. I am very lucky that I have at least two of them still on the island of Ireland. The people see the talented young people having to leave.

We had Sinn Fein with real political power in Stormont, they had essentially a First Minister and a significant number of MPs, and Derry got nothing except photographs of people promising things were coming down the road.

Take the film industry for example. Belfast and Antrim is thriving whereas there were people begging to bring an independent film studio to Ballykelly and they were blocked by our local politicians.

I think it was very largely a protest vote. I think we have a crowd of young people who are not voting orange and green any more and I welcome that.

I don't think the death of Lyra McKee changed the way people voted. The people who did that have no support, none whatsoever.

The people in Creggan where (independent republican) Gary Donnelly topped the poll see the work he is doing. He is on the ground doing everything he can to stop the violence.

Q. You are very forthright in your opinions. Will you be able to work with people in the council who have views very different to your own?

A. Bring it on. I will have no issue with anyone. I will agree to disagree on the issues we can't agree on.

I will try to persuade people of my point of view because that is who I am and the nature of politics, but it is nonsense to think if we don't agree on one thing we can't agree on other things. That is the politics of despair.

By and large the culture wars that people are fighting, the things that they are using to bring down the government such as gay marriage or an Irish Language Act, had no resonance with people in working-class communities. We didn't hear them mentioned.

I am an Irish language activist. I speak Irish fluently, I read in Irish and sometimes I dream in Irish, but to hear that used to divide people is horrific and people see that as not where we want to go.

The real issues that people have are housing, employment, health and social care, as they are everywhere in a normal society.

Q. Is there a place in Aontu for people who believe in the Union?

A. Don't forget the republican tradition in the north of Ireland sprung very much from the Presbyterian community.

The Irish language movement was borne from the Presbyterian community. The United Irishmen were largely Protestants, so we have to find a way of allowing the unionist community to maintain their British identity.

In the interim, instead of this stalemate in Stormont, we are calling not for devolved government from England, but for joint authority so that England and Ireland can administer the Civil Service in the six counties.

If we have direct rule from England, that will not suit republicans although we have some in Sinn Fein running to Westminster asking them to impose direct rule for some of the items on their agenda, which is disgraceful beyond belief that republicans can ask the Brits to do a side deal with them.

We are asking for Dublin to step forward. The mechanisms are already there as part of the Good Friday Agreement.

The demographics here are changing. A lot of people, pragmatic unionists, realise they must make cause with their fellow countrymen in Ireland.

Brexit is a huge threat to their livelihood. This is a time now for new visions. I know when we were talking to people on the doors, people were listening and understanding.

Q. You described yourself as a feminist and a socialist, but your pro-life belief is out of kilter with the pro-choice ideals of socialism and feminism. How do you reconcile the two?

A. I think to be a real feminist you must be pro-life. The most common reason for females to die worldwide is abortion. There are tens of millions of women who are missing because of the social constructs that say women are less useful than men. If we don't recognise the dignity and worth of every human being no matter the age, size, economic worth, ability, disability then we are on the road to chaos.

I know many women who have abortion are there because of socio-economic reasons. They are there because they think they have no choice.

It is all very well for Champagne socialists to talk about giving women choice, but if the only choice a woman has is to put her motherhood and her unborn child's life against her opportunity for progress, they are taking away a woman's choice.

Don't give me that word "choice" unless it is means all choices.

I hate choice used in that context. Choice to do what? Choice to live your life as you want or choice only to destroy the next generation?

To me it's not complicated. You just can't kill things. It is that simple.

Sinn Fein, people who call themselves socialist, used a petition of concern to allow Marie Stopes, a private company, into Northern Ireland. A private for-profit organisation when the NHS was already providing health care for women within the law.

Q. Has your lengthy career as a GP prepared you for life as a local councillor representing the people of Ballyarnett?

A. I really care about ordinary people. I worked as a GP in an area with 60% child poverty.

I watched people struggling to bring their children up with dignity to look after elderly parents, to look after people with disabilities and you couldn't look at that without having enormous respect. People deserve better than we are doing at the moment.

The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.

Derry in particular is being left in a ha'penny place. We need representation that carries the ordinary concerns of people forward.

Now, I can't change PIP (personal independence payments) on the council and I told people that, but you can be a voice for the voiceless.

Q. What took you into medicine as a career?

A. I wanted to go to Dublin. I went to Thornhill school, an all-girl school that told us we could be absolutely anything we wanted.

We were actively encouraged to study science, and I did along with English and Irish and then studied medicine at University College Dublin and I loved it.

I came back to the north because I loved Derry. I worked in Belfast in the early Eighties where I trained and worked in paediatrics for the most part but came back to Derry and worked as a GP from around 1992, which I loved.

I was based in one of the most socially deprived areas and we did a programme comparing our practice with a practice in Orchard Valley, which was very interesting. I loved being a GP.

Q. What about your own childhood? Did you come from a big family and where did you grow up?

A. We lived in terrace house in Dungiven Road in the Waterside.

My father Jimmy worked morning, noon and night. He had his own business making fireplaces. My mother Vera was a housewife but before she was married she worked in the factory where she was involved in setting up a trade union.

She had four children by the time she was 40.

I am the oldest and the only girl. My brothers are John, Frances and Michael. She always told me: "Love many, trust few and always paddle your own canoe."

My father was a republican, although he was in the British Army, strangely enough, when he was very young.

He was in the western desert for most of the war and served with honour.

I remember his medals, he would never let anyone see them, but we found them as children.

We didn't have a privileged upbringing but our parents always put a value on education, so all of us made sure we did our homework and studied hard.

Q. You are married to John Hill, who is also a doctor, and you have four children. What do they think about you going into politics?

A. John is actually apolitical and I couldn't tell you how he even voted. Breandan, Joe, Sinead and Meadbh, they all knew I was going to stand for election because they know me and it was no big deal for them. It's grand.

Q. You are clearly very passionate about politics. What other interests do you have?

A. I love golf. I was captain of the ladies golf team last year.

When you are out there all that matters is that wee white ball and when you come off the 18th green all the cares of the world come rushing back but it is great.

I also play the accordion but very badly!

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