A new republican and pro-life political party being set up by former Sinn Fein politician Peadar Toibin is set to become a significant force in Irish politics after founding over 20 cumainn [branches] across Ireland, including six in the north.
A hectic schedule of 32 public meetings across the state has already earned the new organisation 1,500 members after only 12 meetings. It is drawing supporters who have previously been involved in other political organisations, and many others who have never been politically active before.
The still unnamed party is aiming to have a total of 100 cumainn set up by the end of February, drawing increasing concern from rival political parties who have urged their membership not to attend.
“Nine elected representatives from Fianna Fail, SDLP, Sinn Fein and Independents’ backgrounds have left their political parties and declared for us,” Mr Toibin said this week. “We are talking to another 20 elected reps from across the political spectrum with regards declaring for us.”
In a letter to supporters, he noted the contining failure of Fianna Fail to organised in the Six Counties.
He wrote that “we have achieved more in the north than Fianna Fail in 20 years. Counties such as Meath, Cork, Dublin Donegal have multiple Cumainn functioning. Some Cumainn have started to canvass once a week in their areas.”
He also says that selection conventions for the local elections will start in areas where there are elected representatives before the end of January.
“We need to sign up as many citizens who are aligned to our politics and who are in good standing as members as possible. Cumainn and members should make this priority over the next few weeks.”
At the conclusion of the letter, Mr Toibin says that there is a need for the new party.
“The level of anger in Irish society is a sight to behold,” he said. “There is a demand and a need for a new movement of people. We are this movement. There is no one coming after us.”
After 21 years, Mr Toibin resigned from Sinn Fein last November over party ‘group-think’ after Sinn Fein adopted a hardline pro-choice stance. At its annual conference, delegates voted in favour of a leadership motion that banned party representatives from voting according to their conscience on the issue.
The outcome was predictable -- the departure of a large number of senior party members, the latest in a series of painful splits for Sinn Fein in recent decades.
The party has recently been avoiding comment on the new movement or the defections of its members. However, senior Belfast representative Jim McVeigh was scathing when he wrote in a tweet: “Let me make a prediction. This so called movement, will tear itself apart within 24 months. The egos will bicker and fall out. The opportunists will jump ship, once more, and Peadar will have to get another job!”
Many of his old colleagues are still not talking to him, Mr Toibin said.
“I have a lot of regard for many elected representatives north and south. There is a number of them in there that feel the same way I do around these topics, some may come with us, some may not. I wish them luck in their work.
“Some individuals have been warm and friendly, and that is wonderful, there are some individuals who are hurt, in a big way, who are angry and who are not talking to me at all, and that is understandable too. This is the way these things happen. I felt I had no option but to leave the party.
“I dearly wanted to see if we could make the changes on this issue [abortion] and also other issues within the organisation. Nobody can say I didn’t try my damnedest but unfortunately I felt I was left with no option but to leave,” said Mr Toibin.
He also said he had received a lot of phone calls from members of Fianna Fail who are “unhappy” with the party leadership’s direction in terms of the abortion issue.
“We have nine elected representatives declared for us, which puts us at about the same as the [Social Democrats] were on the go three years ago... we’ll probably be passing out the Green Party fairly shortly,” he said, adding that he is in talks with a further 30 elected representatives.
“People are coming to us from Sinn Fein, Fianna Fail and SDLP backgrounds... though there are people coming from other political parties too, which is interesting.”
Local elections take place on both sides of the border in May, and Mr Toibin hopes to have 20 elected councillors running and to build momentum for challenging for seats in the Dail and Stormont.
“There are a lot of people in the wrong political party at the moment. There is a realignment happening in politics. A lot of people through bonds and friendship and through tradition and history, which are important of course, feel they are tied into their own political organisations currently,” he said.
“My instinct would be if you are gathering votes and working for a political organisation that is doing this harm, or going in a different direction from you, you really need to be making the decision as to whether you are in the wrong political organisation for you and if so, I would suggest people make that decision in the New Year to come with us.”