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What on earth is going on with Sinn Féin in Cork East?

One councillor expelled and another suspended with claims and counter claims. Here’s what we know so far…

SINN FÉIN’S DECISION to expel one councillor and suspend another following an internal review has prompted renewed focus on the party’s secretive nature.

It is famously on-message with infighting or dissent from the long-serving leader Gerry Adams unheard of. But all is not well in the constituency of Cork East.

Yesterday, the party confirmed that it had expelled Cobh-based county councillor Kieran McCarthy and suspended Mallow-based Melissa Mullane for one year following a review of the Sinn Féin organisation in the constituency.

sf-cllrs-2 Kieran McCarthy and Melissa Mullane Source: Sinn Féin and Facebook

No reasons were given for the decision.

McCarthy has said he felt “stabbed in the back” – having been expelled from a party he was a member of for 34 years. Mullane has made no public comment.

This evening TheJournal.ie has uncovered new information which sheds some light on just what is going on in Cork East… 

Background

Last month, the Sunday Times reported on tensions which had emerged between members in Cork East Sinn Féin after McCarthy and Mullane both declared their interest in running for the Dáil.

These declarations came as a result of a general unhappiness with sitting TD Sandra McLellan’s performance since she was elected to the Dáil in 2011. With two councillors putting their name forward it raised the very real prospect of McLellan being deselected, meaning she would be unable to run for re-election.

Nationally, McLellan, a former Siptu shop steward, has kept a very low-profile despite being one of only three female members (the others are Mary Lou McDonald and Senator Kathryn Reilly) of Sinn Féin’s 17-strong Oireachtas group.

One of the only times she made headlines was in June 2012 when she questioned the party’s policy of paying its elected representatives the average industrial wage. In May she was made the party’s children and youth affairs spokesperson in addition to her role as arts and culture spokesperson. She also serves on the Oireachtas Health Committee.

unnamed McLellan with fellow Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Source: Sinn Féin

Veteran TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, who worked with McLellan on that committee, has previously described her as “a very able and hardworking” TD who has “an attention to detail”.

But speaking on Newstalk today, the expelled McCarthy said that having canvassed hard for McLellan in Cobh at the last general election, he now felt she had paid little attention to the town since being elected.

McLellan has declined to comment and we’ve been told she does not wish to speak to journalists at this time.

The internal review 

These ongoing tensions resulted in the party deciding to stand down the entire local officer board in Cork East and carry out an internal review. This was chaired by Jonathan O’Brien, the TD for Cork North-Central, and began in February.

O’Brien, along with three Sinn Féin councillors in Munster, carried out a review involving meetings and interviews with over 60 party members in Cork East, including all elected representatives and party officers.

Sinn Féin said this review was “structured, comprehensive and followed a clear process”. McCarthy has described it as a “Spanish inquisition”.

The blog

As this review was being undertaken, an anonymous blog, ‘An Rebel Og’, was published. It strongly criticised McLellan’s performance as a TD and the party hierarchy more generally. A number of posts on the blog were subsequently deleted although one summarising the situation in Cork East was reposted yesterday.

The blog entry was posted in the comments of TheJournal.ie‘s story by a commenter who appeared to be McCarthy’s wife, Angela, yesterday.

Screen Shot 2015-06-23 at 18.45.38

We understand that the Sinn Féin internal review examined this blog but was unable to definitely determine who was behind it.

Two party sources have accused McCarthy, or someone close to him, of having authored it. But McCarthy has strongly denied that either he, his wife, or anyone close to him is behind the blog.

“It definitely wasn’t me,” he said this evening.

The credit union loan 

McCarthy claims the internal review looked at previous allegations made against him in relation to a loan he took in the name of Sinn Féin.

McCarthy said that this loan had been repaid and that he felt the matter had been resolved. However, he went onto claim that the O’Brien investigation looked at this matter again. He told Newstalk:

I was told… the review [it] took on board another investigation that had been, in our opinion, resolved satisfactorily and we were told it wasn’t and there was stuff uncovered.

He said he had asked what this “other stuff” was but was refused the information. O’Brien told RTÉ’s News at One that he could not comment on these allegations.

mccarthy Kieran McCarthy Source: Sinn Féin

McCarthy said the loan was taken out from the credit union last year for the local elections. TheJournal.ie understands the loan involved thousands of euro. 

Sinn Féin investigated the loan, believing it was not taken for party activities. The money was eventually repaid but McCarthy was found not to have sought permission to take the loan. McCarthy disputed this, insisting permission had been sought and given.

There was a loan taken out for the election 2014, from the credit union. I didn’t take out a loan, the party took out a loan. It was suggested that we didn’t get permission to take out the loan… it’s not true that we didn’t get permission.

When he appealed this particular finding it was rolled into the O’Brien Review.  When it looked into this matter, the O’Brien Review recommended McCarthy’s suspension from the party.

Again, Sinn Féin is declining to say what it uncovered.

Canvassing  

McCarthy has also told us that prior to the last year’s local elections he was prevented from canvassing in Carrigtwohill:

“There have been dirty tricks all along the way… I was forbidden from holding clinics and canvassing in Carrigtwohill. The TD didn’t want me in her area.”

A well-placed local Sinn Féin source confirmed this saying: “Kieran was totally forbidden from canvassing from Carrigtwohill back when this power struggle started.”

They added:

The strategy was to eliminate anyone who was to oppose the TD from the party.

Again, we haven’t had the opportunity to put this to McLellan as she is declining interview requests.

Well-placed Sinn Féin sources have dismissed this, insisting the constituency had been divided between McCarthy and the other candidates in the area and pointed out that he topped the poll.

mclellan-343x500 Sandra McLellan

Minutes

We’ve also learned that the O’Brien Review examined allegations that minutes of a Cork East constituency meeting were altered after the original version included complaints about McLellan’s performance as a TD.

Sinn Féin is not commenting on this particular claim.

So, why were councillors expelled and suspended? 

The findings of the O’Brien Review have not and will not ever be made public as Sinn Féin believes it is an internal party matter.

But we’ve learned that Mullane – who has made no public comment – was told she was being suspended for “uncomradely behaviour”. We also understand the review said that Mullane had been found to have intentionally undermined and marginalised McLellan.

Well-placed Sinn Féin sources have sought to make a clear distinction between McCarthy’s expulsion and Mullane’s suspension, saying they are two separate issues and that Mullane has had no involvement in the loans issue.

Sinn Féin has repeatedly declined to state the reasons why it decided to expel one councillor and suspend another. But the party insisted this evening that both were given reasons for the decisions at a meeting in the Kingsley Hotel in Cork yesterday:

They were given the reasons for the decisions at those meetings. They were also informed that they had 21 days to appeal the decision.  And they were asked to resign their council seats in line with their pledge to the party.

Despite this, McCarthy said earlier he had been left in the dark about the reasons for his expulsion:

All I was told was that stuff was uncovered. I asked what it meant, I was told that they didn’t have to answer to me.

What happens to the two councillors? 

Both councillors have been told that they have to resign their seats in line with a party pledge they signed before going for election. However, there is nothing legally requiring them to do this and they could remain as independent Cork county councillors.

Both have 21 days (from yesterday) to appeal the decision to the party chairman Declan Kearney. The appeal will then be put to the party’s Ard Comhairle (executive council) – the same body that sanctioned yesterday’s expulsion and suspension.

Mullane’s suspension will be lifted pending a review next year, but she will remain suspended indefinitely if she fails to resign her seat. McCarthy is theoretically free to apply to rejoin Sinn Féin. The party would not look kindly on such an application.

Did this have anything to do with protecting Sandra McLellan? 

O’Brien has insisted that his review, and its outcome, had nothing to do with the selection convention in Cork East. Sinn Féin restated this categorically in a statement this evening, saying:

Since the contention has been repeatedly made in the public arena, the party wishes to state that the decisions regarding both councillors were NOT taken in relation to any expressed or implied intention to contest election conventions.

But McCarthy said again this evening that this was “spin” and said he had been expelled to keep him out of the selection process in Cork East:

They are using this as a distraction away from the central issue namely to keep us out of the race.

What happens now in Cork East? 

j-ob-pic-4-390x516 Jonathan O'Brien Source: TheJournal.ie

One of the recommendations of the O’Brien Review was that an open selection process take place in Cork East. This means that a previous Sinn Féin rule preventing a sitting female TD being challenged by a male candidate will be set aside. It will be an open convention where members will select one candidate.

With the two leading contenders for it now out of the party there has been a suggestion that members may put another alternative forward at the Cork East convention. It is one of only five conventions that Sinn Féin hasn’t held so far and there is no date as yet for it.

There is anger among some members locally at how the whole situation was handled. One long-serving member in Cork East told us earlier:

At the moment there is fierce disbelief and fierce anger. You could be looking at 90 members resigning publicly in the next few days.

Several constituency branches are holding emergency meetings in the coming days.

But McCarthy expressed scepticism as to whether there would be a mass resignation of members as he was asked about his own political ambitions and whether he will run as an independent at the next election.

I will be very surprised if this time next week a lot of members of Sinn Féin will no longer be party members over all this issue.

Other local party sources do not believe there will be a signifiant dent in membership as a result of this controversy. 

However, it has certainly laid bare the sort of tensions in Sinn Féin that have hitherto gone unreported.

Read: There could be a mass resignation of Sinn Féin members in Cork East

Read: Expelled Sinn Féin councillor claims party ‘stabbed me in the back’

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About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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