Retiring MP Molloy says securing First Minister role another step to Irish unity

Sinn Fein taking the First Minister’s job at Stormont is another stepping stone towards Irish unity, retiring MP Francie Molloy has said.

He also joked his stepping down allowed him more freedom to say what he wants.

Mr Molloy, 73, announced on Tuesday that he would not be seeking re-election in the Mid Ulster constituency in the next UK general election.

The veteran republican has also served as a councillor, MLA and as the deputy speaker of the Assembly in a near-40-year career in elected politics. He also acted as a mentor for Michelle O’Neill in her early years in politics, with the current First Minister having previously worked as a PA in Mr Molloy’s constituency office. Reflecting on the growth of his party across his time in politics, the outgoing MP highlighted the importance of securing the title of First Minister at Stormont. He said the next goal for his party was becoming the largest party in the Republic of Ireland. “Now we actually have the opportunity to have the First Minister’s job and so it is a major achievement at this point in time, and I think it’s another stepping stone in the world where we are going to relation to Irish unity, and that has to be the main target that we continue on from where we are at the present time,” he told reporters at Parliament Buildings. “And the next step is to Taoiseach.” Explaining his decision to retire, Mr Molloy said it was time for new blood and renewal. He said he was looking forward to having time to relax and also to “say whatever I want to say”. Paying tribute, Ms O’Neill said Mr Molloy had made a “huge contribution” to politics and the peace process. “He was heavily involved in the early Civil Rights movement, including the protest outside the Caledon Squat (in Co Tyrone) in 1968 which is often considered as the spark for people in their demand for better housing, better jobs, and civil rights,” she said. “Francie has been involved in political activism his entire adult life, and has been elected many times as a Councillor, MLA, and MP and served as a member of the party’s Ard Chomhairle (ruling council) during some of the most era-defining stages of the peace process. “I want to thank Francie for his lifelong contribution to ensuring people’s rights are respected, his republican politics and his personal friendship. “I have worked closely with Francie for many years and I’m confident that though he is retiring, he will continue to make a contribution in promoting equality for all in the time ahead.”

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