Co Tyrone councillor Rosemarie Shields defects from SDLP to Peadar Tóibín's new party

Peadar Tóibín left Sinn Féin last year and is setting up a new party
Peadar Tóibín left Sinn Féin last year and is setting up a new party

AN SDLP councillor in Co Tyrone has become the first elected representative in the north to join a new republican party set up by ex-Sinn Féin TD Peadar Tóibín.

News that Rosemarie Shields has joined the as-yet unnamed party was announced by Mr Tóibín on Twitter at the weekend.

Ms Shields was the SDLP’s only representative in the Mid Tyrone ward of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council but is understood to have had clashes with the party.

Details of her departure come days after some SDLP members in Tyrone and Fermanagh voiced concerns about speculation of a merger between the SDLP and Fianna Fáil.

An internal party document seen by The Irish News suggested that Mr Tóibín is “creating another challenge” for Sinn Féin and the SDLP.

Ms Shields claimed there is "deep unhappiness and frustration developing within the SDLP in the north of Ireland".

“For years Fianna Fáil have talked about representing people in the north of Ireland in councils and in Stormont. For years people in the SDLP have waited in limbo.

“As a result the SDLP has become rudderless and are in a state of decay.”

Mr Tóibín left Sinn Féin last year claiming he had been ostracised because of his opposition to abortion.

Ms Shields claimed some within the SDLP are surprised at the approach of her former party and Fianna Fáil to some key issues.

“Many within my old political organisation have been shocked by the 180 degree u-turn that the leadership of Fianna Fáil and the SDLP have made on issues such as the right to life in the last number of months."

She said it had been "a tough decision to separate from many of my old colleagues".

“However, I have a funny feeling that our separation may not last too long and that many more will join me.”

A spokesman for the SDLP said last night: "The timing of Councillor Shields' announcement is interesting given that the party is in the process of selecting candidates for the council elections."

He added that Ms Shields' commitment to her role "would obviously have been a factor in the party's decision on whether to run her as a candidate again or not".

"We wish Rosemarie all the best."

Mr Tóibín will hold a public meeting about his new party in the Strule Arts Centre in Omagh on Wednesday at 7.30pm.