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Aontú sets its sights on Dáil seats as new party wins a handful of seats in the locals

Aontú won three seats in the local elections in the south, and one seat in the Northern Ireland local elections.

Image: Sam Boal

THE NEWEST PARTY in the Irish political system were testing the waters in this local election, and its party leader Peadar Toíbín has said he’s “delighted” with the result. 

Aontú won three seats in the local elections in the Republic and one seat in the Northern Ireland local elections. 53 candidates ran in the south. 

The seats were won in Bailieborough-Cootehill by Sarah O’Reilly, in Navan by Emer Tóbín (Peadar’s sister), by Jim Codd in Rosslare and, earlier this month, Anne McCloskey clinched a seat in Derry. 

The Navan TD previously attracted a number of councillors to switch sides, moving from Sinn Féin to Aontú – but this is the first local election where Toíbín could gauge the public’s reaction to the party. 

Toíbín said he was very pleased with O’Reilly getting 1,700 first preference votes, adding that it was the first time she had ever stood for election.

Before the election, Toíbín issued a warning to voters that if they vote for Fine Fáil, they will get Fine Gael. While the public don’t appear to have heeded his warning, the former Sinn Féin member says he has opened up an alternative space for voters, particularly those who agreed with his stance on abortion, which he ultimately lost his position in Sinn Féin over. 

Prior to his resignation from Sinn Féin, Tóibín was suspended from the party for six months because he voted against the abortion legislation in the Dáil.  

His party’s manifesto states that one of its core values is that it believes “all human life should be protected and that no mother or child should be left behind”. 

The party has not escaped criticism. Critics honed in on Toíbín’s comments recently about opening up a debate on immigration. 

Addressing this at the party’s manifesto launch before the election, he said he didn’t believe there should be orthodoxy in debate, stating that “people are entitled to discuss the issue of immigration as long as it’s reasonable and respectful”.

But not many political parties get off to such a smooth start.

Toíbín states that Aontú’s percentages are good, but pointed out that you won’t see them on the RTÉ website, stating that the party has been lumped in under the category of “others”.

The Meath TD told TheJournal.ie that he has made a complaint to the national broadcaster, stating that the party performed just as well as Independents 4 Change (who are mentioned by name on the website) and added that all Dáil parties should be treated the same. 

A statement from RTE said: “RTÉ can confirm we received a query from Aontú which we have acknowledged and are in the process of replying to.”

Reflecting on the figures, Toíbín said it was “very clear” that in the constituencies his party fought, Sinn Féin votes were going to his candidates.

“I am not saying we are responsible for all of Sinn Féin’s woes in this election, a significant chunk were down to us,” he said.

So, what next for the party? 

With everyone speculating about a general election this year, Toíbín said his party is going to target seats in seven or eight Dáil constituencies. 

Toíbín said he is setting his sights on Donegal, Cavan-Monaghan, Meath east and west, Wexford, Limerick City, Galway, Mayo, Kerry and Cork north-west. 

It’s full speed ahead for the fledgling party, with Aontú selection conventions for these areas taking place in June. 

What about any sitting TDs – are they interested in coming on board? 

When he first set up the party, Toíbín said he was in talks with some politicians about joining up. 

“Since the election, I have been approached by some TDs,” he said, however, he said he was cautious about naming names. 

The political system is broken in Ireland and the people who are the collateral damage need a voice, said Toíbín.

“Aontú will be that voice.”

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