One of Sinn Féin’s longest-serving elected representatives is to step back from frontline politics later this year.
Francie Molloy, MP for Mid Ulster for the past decade, will not seek re-election in the forthcoming Westminster poll, which expected to take place in the autumn.
The 73-year-old great-grandfather has been a Sinn Féin member since the 1960s and has represented the party as a councillor, MLA and MP.
He served on Dungannon Council in the mid-1980s, including two spells as its chair, before being elected to Stormont in 1998, where he fulfilled the role of the assembly’s principal deputy speaker up until 2013.
Mr Molloy stepped down from Stormont when he succeeded the then deputy first minister Martin McGuinness as MP for Mid-Ulster in 2013.
He served on numerous Stormont committees during his 15 years as an MLA and is a former chair of the Finance and Personnel Committee. Sinn Féin First Minister Michelle O’Neill once worked as his personal assistant.
A strong advocate for political representation within the republican movement, the Mid Ulster MP told The Irish News that historically he had always supported Sinn Féin taking its seats in councils, the Dáil and the assembly.
Notably, Mr Molloy said he had once given consideration to the party’s MPs ending their Westminster abstentionist policy but that the requirement to pledge allegiance to the British monarch meant the idea never came to fruition.
“Funny enough, the time that we were all banned from the airwaves and Gerry (Adams) was elected to Westminster, I would have said being in Westminster would have actually denied the Brits the opportunity of blocking us out, because they couldn’t block us in Westminster,” he said.
“But I’ve always been of the mind that republicans couldn’t take their seats and give an oath of allegiance to the British Queen – the Dáil was different, as was Stormont.”
He said after ten years as an MP it was time to retire.
“I’m not going anywhere else, but I’m not going away, as they say,” he said.
Mr Molloy said it was time to “hand over the baton to someone younger” though Sinn Féin has yet to select a candidate to defend the seat with its 9,000-plus majority.
“I started my political activism at the time of the civil rights movement – I was a steward on the first march in Dungannon – and I have seen many changes and witnessed many huge events,” he said.
“The election of Bobby Sands was probably the most momentous because it set Sinn Féin on a new political course that saw us take part in elections.
“I was on the ard chomhairle at the time of the Good Friday Agreement, and that again led to much debate about whether we should take our seats at Stormont, which we did. I think that was a huge step in terms of working with unionists”.
The Mid Ulster MP said it was “no accident” that led him to be involved in politics and that he had enjoyed a career in which he had seen his “fair share of bad days”.
“At 73 it’s probably time to let someone else have a go,” he said.
“I think it’ll be a great opportunity for someone because while we don’t take our seats at Westminster we do everything else and work hard in the interests of our constituents.”