Belfast Telegraph

I've quit SDLP in search of a more dynamic leader, claims councillor

Former Sinn Fein TD Peadar Toibin with party president Mary Lou McDonald
Former Sinn Fein TD Peadar Toibin with party president Mary Lou McDonald
Rosemarie Shields
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

An SDLP member who has defected to a new nationalist party has expressed her disappointment at Colum Eastwood's leadership.

Fermanagh and Omagh councillor Rosemarie Shields said she believed the new party's head, former Sinn Fein TD Peadar Toibin, would be far more dynamic in the role.

Ms Shields said she had been completely opposed to her former party merging with Fianna Fail, which had "a major credibility problem".

She also accused the SDLP of being rudderless and voiced her opposition to its more liberal position on abortion under Mr Eastwood.

Mr Toibin set up the party - which is as yet unnamed - late last year after leaving Sinn Fein due to feeling ostracised over his strong anti-abortion views.

It is due to hold its first public meeting in Omagh tomorrow night.

Ms Shields is the party's first elected representative in Northern Ireland. She was the SDLP's only councillor in the Mid Tyrone ward.

She told the Belfast Telegraph she had become increasingly unhappy with the party's direction.

"I voted for Colum Eastwood when he stood against Alasdair McDonnell for the leadership in 2015," she said.

"I thought we needed a younger leader with vision. I am very disappointed at how it all worked out.

"I know it's not an easy job being leader, but I thought Colum would do much more than he has done.

"I just don't know what the SDLP stands for these days. This is not personal regarding Colum, it's about political direction.

"The SDLP's principles and ideology are moving further and further away from my own beliefs. It doesn't seem to have a definitive position on anything."

Ms Shields said she was very impressed with Mr Toibin.

"He is a breath of fresh air in Irish politics. He is a leader who is enthusiastic, passionate and is not jaded," she added.

The former SDLP councillor claimed that her old party had become "more and more irrelevant" in Northern Ireland politics.

She did not believe that the merger with Fianna Fail would alter its political fortunes, and she criticised the way that behind-the-scenes negotiations had been conducted.

"The SDLP leadership has shown no courtesy to its membership. They went full steam ahead, with no consultation," she claimed.

Ms Shields described herself as centre-left and accused Fianna Fail of being too right-wing for many SDLP members.

"It is not a party that many of them would want to be associated with given the antics of Charlie Haughey and its recent history," she added.

Ms Shields opposed the SDLP's move to liberalise its abortion policy last year.

"Micheal Martin did a similar U-turn on abortion. It's not a position with which many people in the rural north of Ireland agree," she said.

In a statement, the SDLP wished Ms Shields well but suggested that she may not have been chosen to stand as a candidate for the party in May's council elections.

It said: "The timing of councillor Shields' announcement is interesting, given that the party is in the process of selecting candidates for the council elections."

Ms Shields denied that this lay behind her decision to defect to the new party.

"There have been no interviews or selection convention for the local government election," she said. "The SDLP in West Tyrone is tearing itself apart. I am the fourth councillor to leave the party, so it should be clear by now that there is something wrong in the area."

In 2016 councillors Josephine Deehan, Patsy Kelly and Joanne Donnelly resigned from the party.

Belfast Telegraph


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