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Explainer: What has led to resignations in the Social Democrats?

The Social Democrats are reviewing Dublin candidate Ellie Kisyombe’s background in response to a Sunday Times story.

Image: Leah Farrell

THREE PEOPLE HAVE resigned from the Social Democrats’ National Executive board over the weekend in response to how the party has reacted to revelations about their local election candidate Ellie Kisyombe.

Kisyombe was selected as a Social Democrats’ candidate for the North Inner City Ward for the 2019 Local Elections. Originally from Malawi, she has applied for asylum in Ireland, and is in the Direct Provision system as she awaits a decision.

But this weekend, the Social Democrats announced a review into Kisyombe’s story after The Sunday Times reported a week previous that there were alleged inconsistencies in accounts she gave in a number of media interviews.

The move was taken after the party’s co-leaders, TDs Catherine Murphy and Róisín Shortall, wrote to the National Executive to highlight their concerns. 

The newspaper outlined how she first arrived in Ireland on a student visa in 2011, then applied for asylum in the UK before returning to Ireland in 2014.

The SocDems’ website says Kisyombe “came to Ireland from Malawi in 2011 and has spent several years living in Direct Provision”.

Ellie-Kisyombe Source: SocDems

The party’s review into the Dublin candidate’s ‘backstory’ has prompted three resignations over the weekend, with one of those who resigned claiming that “irreparable damage” and “irreconcilable gaps” have occurred due to the incident.

The Social Democrats Dublin Central’s Twitter account said that for legal reasons, Kisyombe remains unable to clarify any remarks given to journalists and broadcasters until a final decision in her application process is made.

An initial Sunday Times piece earlier this month had raised questions about Kisyombe’s previous public comments on the issue, and the asylum-seeking process. However, many people since have also questioned whether covering the story itself was fair.

Resignations

On Saturday, a spokesperson for the Social Democrats confirmed that the party chair Joe O’Connor, vice chair Carly Bailey, and also National Executive member Chris Bond resigned over the party’s decision to carry out the review. 

The Irish Times, which broke the news of the resignations, said that emails they have seen show O’Connor and Bailey’s dissatisfaction with the direction the Social Democrats had taken to review the case in response to media reports.

“I joined this party in the belief that the Social Democrats were different,” one email said.

In a statement released on Saturday, the party said:

“The co-leaders wrote to the National Executive and expressed concern at the allegation that there may be some inaccuracies in Ellie’s backstory, while also appreciating the complexities and severe difficulties posed for those caught up in the asylum process.

“As a result, the National Executive subsequently met and has decided to carry out a review to work through this with Ellie.”

In a statement on Twitter, the Dublin Central branch of the party thanked O’Connor, Carly Bailey and others “who’ve demonstrated immense leadership in preserving the values upon which our party was founded”.

It said that Kisyombe had been placed “in an extremely complex situation”, but that “she looks forward to being able to clear her name once leave to remain has been granted”.

“Living in Direct Provision, Ellie has spent many years living with less rights than others and having her privacy violated,” it added.

Dublin Central Soc Dems remain dedicated to supporting Ellie Kisyombe’s candidacy, alongside Carol Deans, for local election and would be both honoured and proud to have such fine candidates represent the North Inner City, as new and diverse voices for transformative politics.

They also thanked people “for their overwhelming support” for Kisyombe.

In an interview on RTÉ’s Ray D’Arcy show in January this year, Kisyombe said that she is in limbo waiting for her application to be processed.

She said that she was living in Dundalk in a reception centre where she cannot cook, and where she shares a bedroom with her daughter. Her son has a room of his own.

The Social Democrats party was founded in July 2015 by three independent TDs who then took joint-leadership of the party: Stephen Donnelly, Catherine Murphy and Róisín Shortall. 

The centre-left party had three TDs; Stephen Donnelly left the party in 2016 citing leadership difficulties, so the party now has two TDs – Murphy and Shortall.

A Sunday Business Post/Red C poll put the party on 2% support; in the 2016 general election that support stood at 3%. 

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