Sinn Féin’s former MEP for the north of Ireland, Martina Anderson, is to stand down from electoral politics after being asked to do so by the party leadership.
The decision to remove one of the party’s most outspoken republicans from the Belfast Assembly comes amid a renewed effort by Sinn Féin to rebrand itself as a mainstream, centre-left organisation.
Ms Anderson has admitted that the move was completely unexpected. In a video posted on the internet she said being told to quit “came as a body blow”.
The former republican prisoner had been contacted by “comrades, friends and supporters” offering their “solidarity and support”, but she had accepted the decision by the leadership.
“The majority have urged me to stay on,” she said, but added that “this struggle is bigger than any one of us.”
Ms Anderson had infuriated British lobbyists in recent years at the European Parliament with her work to prevent a hard border through Ireland as a result of Brexit, once telling then British Prime Minister Theresa May from the chamber in Brussels to take the border and ‘stick it where the sun doesn’t shine’.
After spending 13 years in jail for her part in the armed struggle, nine of them in English prisons, her reputation as a committed activist was unquestioned, and her departure has came as a shock to republicans.
A dysfunction within the Sinn Féin organisation in the Derry area dating back decades was blamed for her ouster, but party officials also pointed to the recent decline in its vote in the constituency.
However, electoral politics won’t have been a significant factor in the move against Anderson, who topped the poll two years ago in the European parliament elections with 127,000 votes. Instead, her prominence may have worked against her as she became a top target for unionists, reactionaries and others.
The former MEP and junior minister confirmed she would continue to work with Sinn Féin and remain a member.
“Throughout my life as a republican I have always put our struggle first,” she said.
“And so, in wanting what the leadership believe to be best for it I have decided not to seek the nomination to contest the next assembly election.
“As a member of Sinn Féin I will support and work for whoever the local membership selects as a candidate for the next assembly election to help build the political support needed to take us to our ultimate objective of Irish reunification.”