Sinn Féin expels Cork councillor, suspends another… – Updated

…but won’t say why…  As RTÉ reports

Sinn Féin has confirmed that it has expelled one of its Cork councillors and suspended another.

A spokesman said Cllr Kieran McCarthy has been expelled while Cllr Melissa Mullane has been suspended for 12 months.

The spokesman said the action followed a recommendation of an internal party review.

No reason has been given for the action.

Cllr McCarthy represented the Cobh electoral area, while Cllr Mullane represents the Mallow-Kanturk electoral area.

The two councillors were informed of the move at a meeting in Cork city this morning.

In a statement, Cllr McCarthy said he had been given no reason or evidence to warrant his expulsion from Sinn Féin, and he accused the party of stabbing him in the back.

He described his expulsion as an attempt to override the democratic process and to stifle the will of the Sinn Féin membership in the Cork East constituency who, he said, had “lost the confidence of the sitting TD”.

The Irish Times report adds

The sitting Sinn Féin TD in their constituency is Cork East’s Sandra McLellan.

Mr McCarthy accused senior figures in Sinn Féin of operating a “Spanish inquisition” style system and attempting a “poor effort at copying the way Fianna Fáil operates”.

“As far as I am concerned, it is Fianna Fáil Mark II,” he said. He said Sinn Féin had initiated a review because of allegations made and rivalries in the constituency, with the local organisation stood down a number of months ago.

He said there had been allegations of loans being misappropriated, but insisted these not been proved.

He had not been given a copy of the constituency review nor provided with an adequate explanation for his expulsion, he said, adding he had been informed of his expulsion in person by a party official. [added emphasis]

A party spokesman said the decision followed a review of the Cork East constituency and both Mr McCarthy and Ms Mullane had 21 days to appeal to party’s ard chomhairle decision.

However, the spokesman was not able to say what had led to the disciplinary action.

Sinn Féin’s Cork North Central TD, Jonathan O’Brien confirmed the disciplinary action against the two councillors but refused to be drawn on the background.

“I can’t give the background to it because both members have the right to appeal so it would be unfair to comment on it,” Mr O’Brien told Cork’s 96FM.

“And the fact that it was as a result of recommendations on the back of an internal party review, it would not be appropriate to comment publicly on it.

“But they have the right to appeal so I won’t be commenting on anything in relation to it,” said Mr O’Brien after news emerged of the sanctions at a Cork County Council meeting.

According to informed sources, there have been tensions within the Sinn Féin organisation in East Cork for several months and some six months ago the party closed its office in Cobh.

Ms McLellan has retained her constituency office in her home town of Youghal and while she rents rooms for clinics in Mallow, Fermoy, Cobh and Midleton.

Sinn Féin won ten seats on Cork County Council in last year’s local elections but with the expulsion of Cllr McCarthy and the suspension of Cllr Mullane, the party is down to eight.

Cllr McCarthy in particular is a long-serving member of the party whose involvement in republican politics in East Cork goes back to the 1980s and the time of the hunger strikes.

Cllr Mullane is a more recent recruit to the party but did well to win a seat for the party in the hotly contested Mallow-Kanturk electoral area in the last local elections.

“It’s awkward for the party – nobody likes to lose two councillors but the review panel came up with its recommendations and the Ard Comhairle backed their decision” said one source.

Both Cllr McCarthy and Cllr Mullane had both expressed an interest in running for the party in Cork East in the next general election but the party had deferred any decision on the issue.

Adds  As mentioned in the comment zone, a blog has appeared claiming background knowledge of the dispute.  According to an Irish Times report

Mr McCarthy said Sinn Féin had initiated a review because of allegations made and rivalries in the constituency, with the local organisation stood down a number of months ago.

Party sources said a blog called “An Rebel Óg”, which criticised Ms McLellan and the party generally, was included in the review.

Mr McCarthy said he did not know who was behind the blog and added there had been allegations of loans being misappropriated in an attempt to damage certain people, but insisted these had not been proved.

And an Irish Examiner report adds

While SF refused to give details, it is understood hearings focused on months of fractious relations between Sinn Féin members and sitting TD Sandra McLellan. The TD’s cumann called for bullying policy changes at the party’s ard fheis.

After concerns emerged late last year, senior party officials disbanded all cumanns in the area and began a review focused on claims Ms McLellan was being bullied by local party members about her TD performance.

The alleged bullying includes a since removed online blog under the pseudonym ‘An Rebel Og’.

There is currently only one entry on the An Rebel Og blog, and it’s dated 22 June.

An internal inquiry panel was subsequently set up to investigate the various complaints made by the TD in East Cork.  It was bizarrely headed up by Jonathon O’Brien TD, McLellan’s comrade in the Dail.  The complaints, it appears, mainly focused on the two councillors who had expressed an interest in contesting the TD’s seat at convention, Kieran McCarthy and Melissa Mullane.  A happy coincidence?  Or a desperate last ditch effort by the TD to hold onto her seat?  Both councillors refute any accusations of wrong-doing and are continuing on with their constituency work while the inquiry continues to take place.

As things currently stand in East Cork, the structure is stood down, pending the findings of the various inquiries.  The TD is regularly slinging mud in the same two directions, and it seems that nobody has the ability to reprimand her increasingly erratic behaviour.  Communication between McLellan and most of the East Cork membership is all but non-existent, and it seems her recent behaviour has deemed a reconciliation unlikely.  In fact, many members are now openly stating that they will not canvass for the sitting TD should she go forward as the candidate for the upcoming general election.

The party now stands at a crossroads in East Cork.  If it does not take control of the area and listen to its membership, it is likely that the exodus of existing members will continue, new members will be deterred from getting involved and ultimately this traditional Sinn Fein stronghold will collapse.  The party’s handling of issues in the area has shown both a lack of understanding and a loss of connection with its membership.  Internal squabbling is certainly nothing new in politics, but shutting down an entire area’s structure is a foolish move.  A cynic might be excused for thinking the party was willing to sacrifice the East Cork membership, for the sake of keeping the TD content.  Perhaps in this case, the party has underestimated the resolve of its members.

Update  Sinn Féin has now released a statement on their “East Cork Review”…

The review commenced in January and the review panel was headed-up by Jonathan O’Brien.  It included three Sinn Féin Councillors.

The review was initiated following a number of complaints.  It involved interviews and meetings with more than 60 party members in the Cork East constituency including all elected representatives and all party officers.

The review was structured, comprehensive and followed a clear process. Any contention to the contrary is untrue.

The review concluded with the compilation of a report, including findings and recommendations. These recommendations included that Councillor Kieran McCarthy be expelled from Sinn Féin and that Councillor Melissa Mullane be suspended from Sinn Féin for a period of 12 months.

These recommendations were brought before the Ard Chomhairle on Sunday, June 21st.  It was discussed and endorsed at that meeting.

Both Councillors were informed of the review panel’s findings and recommendations by the chairperson of the panel and by the chairperson of the party’s 26 County Directorate at meetings in the Kingsley Hotel in Cork on Monday, June 22nd.

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.

The report and its recommendations are internal to Sinn Féin.

However, 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.

So, it would appear that, whatever it is that the Sinn Féin party hierarchy has decided that the two councillors were guilty of was serious enough for one to be expelled from the party, the other to be suspended for a year, both to be asked to resign their council seats, but yet it’s not serious enough for the mere voters of East Cork, whom they both still represent, to be told what that is.