A spectacular row over the disciplining of two councillors has divided the Sinn Fein organisation in Cork, with up to 70 resignations reported across the Cork East constituency.
On Monday, Sinn Fein confirmed it had expelled Cobh-based Cork County Council member Kieran McCarthy (pictured, left) and had suspended Mallow-Kanturk councillor Melissa Mullane for 12 months due to an internal party crisis. Other officials were also disciplined.
The party said Mr McCarthy was expelled for financial issues relating to a credit union loan for his 2014 local election campaign. There were also allegations involving a seven-month delay in giving 2,900 euro of fundraised money to the family of a seriously ill child amid a dispute among the charity organisers.
Sinn Fein said Ms Mullane was suspended for “uncomradely behaviour” towards the party’s TD for Cork East, Sandra McLellan (pictured, right). The decisions were made after an internal inquiry into wider claims in the constituency of an alleged “bullying” campaign against Ms McLellan and criticism of the TD’s performance.
But the action appears to have backfired. A statement issued on Wednesday night by a former senior cumann member said that 54 out of 56 members of the Michael Burke Cumann in Cobh had resigned from the party in protest at what was described as the “unjust, undemocratic and reprehensible manner” in which the two councillors were treated.
Mr McCarthy said he has the support of the majority of party members in the Cork East constituency. He said the allegations against him had no basis, and claimed that it was due the fact that his campaign to stand in the net general election “did not go down well” with party authority figures.
Mr McCarthy claimed the party has attempted to “blacken” his name to prevent his candidacy and engaged in a series of disciplinary actions worthy of “the Spanish Inquisition”.
He confirmed the party has now asked him to relinquish his Cork County Council seat.
“They did - how ridiculous is it? It is totally ludicrous, undemocratic and adding insult to the injury already caused,” he said. “I was stunned by it. I can tell you here and now that it is not going to happen. Not under any circumstances. I am going to keep working for the people that elected me,” he added.
Up to 15 members of a Sinn Fein cumann in Fermoy also resigned from the party on Tuesday night, with a statement saying the decision was with “deep regret”. It was claimed that further resignations were being considered in Midleton and Carrigtwohill.
Tensions in the constituency were first laid bare when both councillors declared an interest in running for the Dail, putting sitting TD Sandra McLellan’s future in doubt.
An anonymous blog, `An Rebel Og’, has been strongly criticising Ms McLellan’s performance, claiming her “obvious weaknesses” had led to the loss of the only sitting Sinn Fein county councillor’s seat in the 2014 local elections in Ms McLellan’s home town of Youghal.
One of the surprise wins for Sinn Fein in the 2011 General election, Ms McLellan made national headlines the following year with comments seeking increased pay from Sinn Fein and complaints that she struggles to afford make-up and hairdos.
Earlier this month, the TD was reported to have contacted the Independent Alliance about joining the grouping if her party did not back her in the dispute. Sinn Fein has denied this.
In a statement, Ms McLellan said she will put her name forward once again to stand for Sinn Fein in the upcoming general election.
“Nobody likes to lose party members but now is the time to move on from this whole episode and I am looking forward to getting on with the party’s work in the constituency and building for the future,” she said.
“I will be contesting the upcoming convention and hope to win the support of the party members in Cork East to stand once again for Sinn Fein and to retain this seat for the party.”
Sinn Fein has insisted its decisions regarding both councillors were not related to the election conventions.
A spokesman said the party had not received formal notification of any resignations and that any resignations were not permissible because all of the party structures in the constituency had been “stood down”.
He said party members in the Cork East constituency would be briefed on the situation and would be given the “full information relating to the constituency review”. Meetings with several party branches had been “extremely positive”, he said, and those in attendance had expressed a desire to move forward with the party’s work.