FORMER Sinn Féin TD Peadar Tóibín has said that his new party hopes to select candidates for the North’s upcoming Council elections by early February.
The Meath TD left Sinn Féin in November over the party’s decision to back legislation allowing for abortion.
The as yet unnamed party is set to host a meeting at the Malone Lodge in Belfast this Monday with a view to setting up local branches.
Speaking to the Daily Belfast ahead of the meeting, Mr Tóibín said it was not his intention to “clip the ear off” Sinn Féin based on his past experience, but rather to build a “broader” republican party.
“I believe over the last year that Sinn Féin has narrowed its ideological space, both economically and socially,” he said.
“It has flipped its policy on a number of social issues. In 2015, the party would have been openly pro-life. In 2018, they’ve gone the opposite direction.
“I also battled internally for the last two years to make sure I could be part of the Oireachtas team on an equal basis, but because I had a difference of opinion on the issue of abortion that just wasn’t allowed. I wasn’t given the chance to equally participate in the organisation.
“For example, the leadership of Sinn Féin, Michelle O’Neill and Mary Lou, went to London recently and asked Westminster to legislate on three separate areas for the North of Ireland – that’s unheard of in republican terms. For 200 years republicans have tried to stop them legislating on Ireland.”
He continued: “The party is also caught in a way in that it wants to reach middle-Ireland more, maybe looking at winning seats in leafy liberal Dublin if it can, reaching out to the media too, but there is a big danger that it will lose its grassroots base. I think the Presidential campaign was an example of where the grassroots became so disempowered that they didn’t come out for the organisation.”
Mr Tóibín insists that Sinn Féin, the SDLP, Fianna Fáil, and Labour have positioned themselves on the same space, and that his party hopes to attract disillusioned members. Asked about his party’s policies, beyond being pro-life, Mr Tóibín said: “We are for the unity of the Irish people North and South and we will be reaching out the hand of friendship to people from a Protestant background, people who wouldn’t have been able to vote for Sinn Féin in the past, for many reasons.
“We’ll also be reaching out to people who believe that the Tories have made such balderdash of Brexit, and have had their rights to self-determination taken away with regards to remaining in the EU. For us, economic justice issues are very important. Right now we have people in the North who are in food poverty, housing poverty, health poverty and yet we have stalemate at Stormont.”
He contined: “We need the governments to institute joint authority in the North. We also need to make sure that there is serious work done on the All-Ireland economy. It was sold to us as part of the Good Friday Agreement, but it had fallen off the agenda for many political parties. It will be one of the greatest tools to ameliorate the effects of Brexit.
“Another point, and I think, Sinn Féin have been remiss on this, we want an independence referendum, but we can start to deconstruct the border in the meantime.
“The border is made up of thousands of different bricks, which stand for a practical experience in someone’s life. It could be a cross-border ambulance service, a cross-border health service, cross-border education, or corporation tax – a cross-border soccer team. Every time we fix those issues, we create convergence North and South, we improve the delivery of services and the quality of life for people, and the height of the border starts to reduce in height.”
Mr Tóibín has said his party hopes to stand between 50 to 70 candidates across Ireland, and has already attracted nine elected councillors.
Asked about the number of candidates standing in Belfast, Mr Tóibín said: “We won’t get into the micro details just yet. Hundreds of people are joining us on a weekly basis. New cumainn are being set up around the country, and we have new cumainn that will be set up in Belfast.
“We want to make sure that we are an activist based grassroots organisation. If we get that infrastructure set up around the six counties then we hope to be selecting candidates by early February in places we believe we can win seats.”