Councillor Denise Mullen leaves SDLP over party's stance on abortion
A high-profile councillor who has quit the SDLP to join pro-life party Aontu has hit out at her former party's change in political direction.
Denise Mullen decided to leave ahead of a meeting of Mid Ulster District Council on Thursday evening.
She disagreed with her party's decision to oppose a DUP motion on same-sex marriage.
DUP councillors had proposed a motion that the council oppose the decision taken at Westminster to introduce same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland if Stormont is not restored by October 22.
The SDLP councillors were intending to vote against the motion.
DUP councillor Paul McClean also urged the council to write to new Prime Minister Boris Johnson to call on him to overturn the decision.
Yesterday afternoon Ms Mullen, who said she had been considering quitting the SDLP "for a while", confirmed she had joined Aontu.
The party was set up by Peadar Toibin last year after he quit Sinn Fein because of the party's decision to change its policy on abortion.
Ms Mullen said: "I am delighted that I have made the decision. Like so many people, I have become angered and disillusioned by the radical change in direction of the SDLP leadership in recent times.
"The SDLP leadership no longer represent the party grassroots.
"Issues such as Irish unity, economic justice and the right to life are being dropped or seriously changed.
"The leadership of the SDLP are now firmly pro-abortion. That's not good enough for me or many others."
An SDLP spokesperson said: "Ms Mullen stood and was elected on a clear SDLP ticket just 12 weeks ago. SDLP policy was clear then as it is now. The party has accepted Ms Mullen's resignation and wishes her well."
Ms Mullen's move to Aontu means the party now has two councillors in Northern Ireland.
Dr Anne McCloskey, a retired GP from the Shantallow area of Londonderry, was elected to Derry and Strabane District Council at May's local government elections.
Mr Toibin said: "We are delighted that Denise has joined our new political movement. Denise has been a phenomenally active public representative for the people of Dungannon."
Ms Mullen was first elected to Mid Ulster council in 2014.
The SDLP website had stated that she comes from a "staunch SDLP family" and sat on the party executive.
Her father Dennis Mullen was murdered by the UVF in 1975.
Her mother Olive survived the shooting by running across the fields beside her home while the killers fired 13 bullets at her. Denise, then aged four, stayed with her father's body until emergency services arrived.
Mr Toibin added: "Denise has always pursued justice for her family and all the other families affected with determination and vigour.
"Denise has a quality that is rare in Irish politics. Denise is not afraid to stand up for what she believes in.
"She has courage and conviction. She will be a great addition to our elected team."