Page last updated at 13:28 GMT, Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Assembly member joins Fianna Fail

Gerry McHugh
A newspaper said Gerry McHugh is to become the first Fianna Fail MLA

A republican member of the Northern Ireland Assembly has joined the Irish Republic's biggest party, Fianna Fail.

Independent assembly member, Gerry McHugh, has joined the party but will continue to sit as an independent.

Speaking about his decision, Mr McHugh said he believed the party was best placed to a deliver a united Ireland.

Mr McHugh left Sinn Fein two years ago complaining that they had become "undemocratic" and said he disagreed with the direction the party had taken.

The 52-year-old, who represents the Fermanagh/South Tyrone constituency, told the BBC he believed the nationalist parties in Northern Ireland were "quite confined" in their ability to deliver a united Ireland.

In comparison he said Fianna Fail had "the strength and political ability" to create a united Ireland.

His move comes more than two years after the former Fianna Fail Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, announced his party was to organise in Northern Ireland.

'Ending occupation'

Reports of a possible link-up with the SDLP to take on Sinn Fein's assertion that it was the only "all-island party" did not materialise however, and last summer, his successor Brian Cowen ruled out the probability of an imminent deal.

Fianna Fail has continued to recruit in Northern Ireland and the Electoral Commission says there is no legal barrier to the party standing in elections north of the border.

Gerry McHugh had been a member of Sinn Fein for over 30 years when he resigned from the party exactly two years ago this week.

At the time he said the direction Sinn Fein was taking was "more about appeasement of the British government and administrating British rule in Ireland rather than working towards the end of British occupation".

Sinn Fein rejected his claims and questioned why he had not raised his concerns within the party before making them public.

As well as taking his seat in the assembly, where he sits on the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee, Mr McHugh is also a member of Fermanagh District Council.

Outside politics, the father-of three describes himself as an "energetic hill-walker" and takes an active interest in heritage and farming issues.

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