Northern Ireland

Former SDLP councillor Denise Mullen joins Aontú

Former SDLP councillor Denise Mullen has joined Aontú
Former SDLP councillor Denise Mullen has joined Aontú

A councillor who resigned from the SDLP this week has joined Aontú.

Denise Mullen, who was elected to Mid Ulster District Council in 2014, revealed her decision to party colleagues minutes before a council meeting in Dungannon on Thursday night.

Ms Mullen disagreed with a party decision to oppose a DUP motion about same-sex marriage.

The unionist party had put forward a motion stating its opposition to a recent decision at Westminster to "enforce" same-sex marriage if no agreement to restore devolution is reached by October.

DUP councillor Paul McLean had also called on the council to write to new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson urging him to withdraw the decision.

It is understood that Ms Mullen had wanted her party to abstain on the motion but was told she was expected to back its position.

She later said she didn’t “have a view either way” on same sex-marriage and “I feel abstaining was best while, as a Catholic, not having a consultation/direction from the Catholic Church”.

Hours after resigning she joined Aountú, a party set up by Peadar Tóibín after leaving Sinn Féin last year, claiming he had been ostracised because of his opposition to abortion.

Ms Mullen said she was “delighted” with her decision.

“Like so many people, I have become angered and disillusioned by the radical change in direction of the SDLP leadership in recent times,” she said.

“The SDLP leadership no longer represent the party grassroots.

“Issues such as Irish unity, economic justice and the right to life are being dropped or seriously changed."

While the SDLP voted with the DUP on the abortion motion on Thursday, she claimed "the leadership of the SDLP are now firmly pro-abortion. That’s not good enough for me or many others".

Ms Mullen was one of the SDLP’s most prominent local councillors before her resignation this week.

Her family is steeped in SDLP politics and her father Denis was a was a well-respected party activist before his murder by the UVF’s Glenanne Gang in September 1975 at the family home in Moy, Co Tyrone.

Mr Tóibín last night described her as “a phenomenally active public representative for the people of Dungannon”.

"Denise has also been to the fore in fighting for the rights of victims of state collusion,” he said.

“Denise has always pursued justice for her family and all the other families affected with determination and vigour.”

He added that his new party colleague “is not afraid to stand up for what she believes in”.

“She has courage and conviction and she will be a great addition to our elected team,” he said.

The SDLP could not be contacted for comment.

Ms Mullen becomes Aontú's second serving councillor, after Anne McCloskey won a seat on Derry and Strabane council earlier this year.