General Election 2019: Republican pro-life party Aontu out to give SF bloody nose in a number of seats
The leader of the anti-abortion republican party Aontu has said he is confident its Westminster candidate will secure several thousand votes in the key nationalist battleground of Foyle.
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Former Sinn Fein TD Peadar Toibin predicted that retired GP Dr Anne McCloskey in Foyle, and the party's South Down candidate, newcomer Paul Brady, would record four figure votes and potentially determine whether Sinn Fein or the SDLP win the seats.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood is seeking to take back Foyle from Sinn Fein's Elisha McCallion. In South Down the SDLP's Michael Savage is challenging Sinn Fein's Chris Hazzard.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph last night, Mr Toibin said Aontu was standing at least five candidates in next month's poll.
He refused to rule out contesting Fermanagh and South Tyrone and North Belfast, where his party's presence could cost Sinn Fein the seats.
Mr Toibin resigned from Sinn Fein a year ago "with a heavy heart" after being suspended for disagreeing with its abortion policy. He formed Aontu in January.
Dr McCloskey secured over 1,000 votes in the Ballyarnett area to be elected onto Derry City and Strabane Council in May's local government election. She had previously received 3,400 votes when she ran for the Assembly.
Mr Toibin said: "I expect Aontu to win thousands of votes in both Foyle and South Down. There is stiff competition between Sinn Fein and the SDLP in these constituencies and I expect our vote to affect the direction the seats go in. We are running local businessman Martin Kelly in Newry and Armagh. He wasn't far off a council seat, polling 822 votes in May. We will also be contesting East Derry and West Tyrone."
The TD said Aontu would probably field candidates in West Belfast and Mid Ulster.
On his plans for other areas, he said: "We are totally opposed to the carving up of constituencies by political parties in the way it has been done to try to pre-determine election results.
"I definitely won't rule out either North Belfast or Fermanagh and South Tyrone. Nominations don't close until Thursday.
"But we will only run where we have viable candidates and a good solid organisation on the ground. This is a building election for us."
Like Sinn Fein, Aontu will contest the poll on an abstentionist ticket.
Mr Toibin denied that it was a "one issue party" and said he believed that many Sinn Fein and SDLP voters were "discommoded" by the direction of both parties and were looking for an alternative.
"We see a lot of frustration. Sinn Fein actively demanding that Westminster legislate for the North has not gone down well," he said. "We believe there is a hunger out there for a nationalist/republican party opposing that, one which will stand up for people on bread and butter issues rather than waging culture wars and focusing on identity politics."
He said people were "sick to death with the political stalemate and dysfunction and inertia". He said it was a terrible indictment of all the parties that Stormont had been suspended for over 1,000 days.
The TD said his party did not believe in sitting at Westminster. "I think a majority of nationalists in the North don't want their elected representatives going to London, they want them sitting in the national parliament in Dublin," he said.
"If an Aontu MP is elected, they would present in Leinster House. We believe they would have speaking rights on Oireachtas committees. They should also have speaking rights in the Seanad, all that is stopping that is political will."
Aontu ran 16 candidates in May's council election but only Dr McCloskey was successful. However, former SDLP councillor Denise Mullan, who left the party in the summer, now represents Aontu on Mid Ulster District Council.
Aontu stood in two West Belfast district electoral areas, polling just under 1,500 votes.
In the Republic's local government election, Aontu ran 53 candidates but only won three seats.