Omagh Councillor Sorcha McAnespy launched a broadside against Sinn Féin in West Tyrone after her sudden resignation from the party on Thursday, and announced her intention to stand as an independent candidate in the forthcoming Northern Ireland Assembly election.
The Ulster Herald appears to have broken the story on Thursday.
The former vice-chair of Omagh District Council said she made the shock decision because she was “left in an untenable position at local level” by Sinn Féin councillors and other members of the party.
She accused them of sidelining her as well as blocking her progress in Sinn Féin, while opening up positions to newer members with less experience and credentials.
However the mother-of-three, who was first elected as a councillor back in 2011, told the Ulster Herald that she has “no beef with the political analysis” of Sinn Féin and her difficulties were at a local level within the party.
She said, “So many things have happened. I am not been allowed to carry out the work I have been elected to do for my constituents and my progression has been blocked every way I turn and that is to the detriment of the local area.
“It is very disappointing when you put your heart and soul into something and do everything above board and by the book yet not get support or recognition.”
Ms McAnespy highlighted her concerns to the party but said she did not feel she received adequate support.
She added, “I have tried to get this addressed so many times. I also tried to deal with it myself and put my head down and do my work to represent my constituents as best I can.
“I have proved myself in elections and on Omagh Council. There should have been no question of me standing for Sinn Féin in 2014, however I just about got selected and nearly didn’t get out of the Sinn Féin traps.
“Now I feel I just have to move on. It has got to a stage were I often don’t know where a lot of decisions have been made even though I was at the last party meeting.” [added emphasis]
I’ll come back to that…
After first being elected to Omagh District Council in 2011, unseating another Sinn Féin councillor in the process, Sorcha McAnespy was elected to the new Fermanagh and Omagh District Council in 2014.
A subsequent report in the Irish News has more forthright comments from Cllr McAnespy.
The former vice-chair of Omagh District Council claimed she had been “marginalised” within Sinn Féin in favour of newer members with less experience.
Ms McAnespy (36) said she raised her concerns with the party but did not feel she received adequate support.
“There’s too much nepotism and misogyny present in the party locally. It’s jobs for the boys. It is not open and transparent,” she claimed.
“Sinn Féin needs to support their elected representatives. They need to find mechanisms to support people who feel this way.”
Ms McAnespy, who revealed her decision to quit the party in the Ulster Herald on Thursday, gained the most first-preference votes for the party in the Omagh ward in the 2014 council elections.
But the mother-of-three yesterday said she has been feeling discontented for several years, claiming she was being “undermined”.
“I just felt you were being restricted whatever way you went. It wasn’t nice,” she said.
She added: “I was hoping things would get better. I was hoping that I would be able to find another way around this.” [added emphasis throughout]
Occasional Slugger contributor, Chris Donnelly, played down the “fall-out” in the Irish News report
Political commentator Chris Donnelly said on Thursday night that Sinn Féin is likely to retain its three MLA seats in West Tyrone despite Ms McAnespy’s candidacy.
“This one is unlike Fermanagh and South Tyrone in that I can’t see this contributing towards a loss,” he said.
But he added: “It is another sign that Sinn Féin in the north is beginning to move towards a normal political party where there would be this type of fall-out. [added emphasis]
“That will bring challenges to Sinn Féin at a leadership level. They like to maintain internal discipline.”
[Beginning, indeed. – Ed] Up to a point, Lord Copper…
Unlike previous resignations, so far Sinn Féin hasn’t demanded the return of their Council seat by the now Independent Cllr McAnespy, instead a party spokesman has been quoted in the various reports as ‘disappointed’
A Sinn Féin spokesperson expressed “disappointment” at Cllr McAnespy’s decision to leave the party.
He said, “We thank her for her service. Sinn Féin’s team of candidates for West Tyrone in the upcoming Assembly election were selected by the delegates of the party at an open and democratic selection convention. Sinn Féin will put our programme for progressive politics and for Irish Unity before the people of West Tyrone at next month’s election.”
Interestingly, I failed to find any reference by Sinn Féin on-line to an actual selection convention in West Tyrone – including their own press statements. The party’s four candidates for this year’s NI Assembly election, three sitting MLAs, Barry McElduff, Declan McAleer(co-opted 2012) and Michaela Boyle, along with first-time candidate Grace McDermott, were announced at the launch of Pat Doherty’s Westminster campaign in March 2015.
Sinn Féin previously attempted to win four of the six West Tyrone Assembly seats in 2011. But on that occasion, Declan McAleer missed out. He was later co-opted into the seat vacated by Pat Doherty.
The party still believe they possess enough votes in West Tyrone for four quotas and believe they can roll out the right strategy to turn their 50 per-cent share of the overall vote into four seats.
Of course, as with share prices, electoral fortunes can go down as well as up.