May 7, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — Newly formed Irish political party Aontú have had their first candidate elected.
In the local authority elections taking place in Northern Ireland, Dr. Anne McCloskey was elected on the sixth count in the Ballyarnett ward for Derry City and Strabane District Council.
She summed up her politics — and to some extent that of her party — thus: “All my life I have been republican, of the left, a feminist and an advocate for the rights of the marginalised. I’m proud to be pro-life, and regard it as a logical extension of all of these other beliefs.”
These elections were the first electoral test for Aontú, which is a new pro-life political party that contests elections both north and south of the Irish border. The Derry result was the only victory for the 16 Aontú candidates nominated in 7 of the 11 local council areas across Northern Ireland holding elections.
Aontú was born on 15 November 2018 after pro-life Member of the Irish Parliament (T.D.) Peadar Tóibín resigned from Sinn Féin over its pro-abortion stance. He had opposed the Sinn Féin party whip on the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018. Thereafter, he began setting up a new political party that is to be as Republican as it is — unusually, for a party of the political left — pro-life.
Immediately, Tóibín began canvassing other elected representatives unhappy with the pro-abortion stance of all the main political parties in the Irish Republic. Within one week, his new party, as yet unnamed, had attracted two local councilors in the Republic. Eventually, a further five local councilors south of the border joined the new party.
Thereafter, Tóibín set about holding meetings across Ireland speaking to those interested in becoming party members. The first Northern Ireland local councilor declared for the new party on 7 January 2019, when local councilor for Fermanagh and Omagh Rosemarie Shields left the Social and Democratic Party (SDLP) for what was to become Aontú. Upon announcing her decision, Shields made clear that the unabashed pro-life position of the new party was a significant factor in her decision to join it. A second Northern Ireland local councilor from Armagh joined on 26 February 2019.
The name Aontú, which means unity, was announced at a meeting in Belfast on 28 January 2019. At the press conference, Tóibín said: “Aontú obviously means unity and our major objective is the unity of Irish people north and south”. He added that Aontú would “seek to build an all-Ireland economy to mitigate the worst effects of Brexit, economic justice for all, and to protect the right to life.” Drawing up the new party’s constitution, Tóibín wished to emphasis the need for economic justice while also making it clear that the party constitution would be “100 percent pro-life.”
The May 2019 elections in Northern Ireland were part of wider local elections also taking part across parts of England. In that country, largely on account of the Brexit stalemate, the electorate took the opportunity to punish the two main British political parties, Labour and Conservative. As a consequence there was a rise in support for smaller parties such as the centrist Liberal Democrats and the left-wing Green Party. In contrast, across Northern Ireland, the vote remained more or less constant for the two main parties — namely, the right-wing Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and left-wing Sinn Féin. That said, there was a sizable increase in electoral support for the centrist Alliance Party and Green Party.
Sinn Féin has many of the same left-wing policies as Aontú except that the former is aggressively pro-abortion. Sinn Féin was prominent in last year’s referendum in the Republic calling for a ‘yes’ vote to liberalize Irish laws on abortion, and the party remains at the fore in calling for a change to Ulster’s pro-life laws.
In Northern Ireland, another competitor for Aontú’s nationalist (Catholic) vote is the social democratic SDLP, a sister party of Britain’s Labour Party, and more recently Fianna Fáil in the Irish Republic. Although the SDLP claims to be pro-life, recent pronouncements from its current leadership suggest a decided ambiguity on the subject. Last year, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood backed the ‘yes’ vote in the Republic’s abortion referendum supporting the scrapping of Ireland’s pro-life constitutional safeguard. In Northern Ireland, on the Unionist side, the DUP is pro-life, while other parties such as the Alliance Party and the Greens are pro-abortion.
The fractured and sectarian nature of Northern Ireland politics makes it difficult for any new party to have an impact. Although the election of a councilor in Northern Ireland elections will be welcomed by Aontú, it is also worth remembering that the party’s two sitting councilors, both of whom had defected from other more established parties earlier this year, lost their seats.
Aontú had to start somewhere. It has managed to gain an elected representative in the first election the party contested. However, looking at the current state of politics north of the border, it would appear that Aontú has a long way to go to replace the electoral dominance of the party that Tóibín left — namely, Sinn Féin.