Sinn Fein’s spectacular slump in the Republic’s local and European elections erupted into open warfare last night after a veteran candiate quit.
In a hugely damaging move, Christy Burke turned his back on the party after 40 years, accusing it of failing to support him during his tilt in the Dublin Central by-election. Mr Burke, Sinn Fein’s longest serving councillor, said he felt isolated by the party and not given the respect and funds he needed to win the late TD Tony Gregory’s seat. And he rubbished the party’s claim that he had deceived it and the voters by quitting just three days after the elections, saying he would stand as an independent.
“I felt downgraded, I felt irrelevant. I didn’t get the respect I deserve after 25 years,” Mr Burke said. “It’s been an emotional day for me and my family, but I am certainly not changing my mind. I’ve been thinking of quitting Sinn Fein for over a year now,” he added.
“I’ve had time to think about this and I won’t be changing my mind. I’m perfectly capable of standing on my own two feet as an independent,” added Mr Burke.
His departure caps a miserable week for Sinn Fein which failed to get Mary Lou McDonald and convicted gun runner Martin Ferris’s daughter Toireasa Ferris elected as MEPs.
Despite gaining 4,520 votes, Mr Burke lost out to Mr Gregory’s successor, Independent Maureen O’Sullivan.
But he held his Dublin City council seat, first won in 1985.
Last night he rubbished comments by Aengus O Snodaigh, chair of the party’s Dublin branch, that the seat is a Sinn Fein seat.
“I was unhappy. There comes a time in everyone’s life when you say I’ve had enough. Everybody in life has to make decisions and this is mine,” Mr Burke said.
His main complaints were that Sinn Fein gave him too little funding and not enough posters. “Sinn Fein workers on the ground gave every inch.
“But I felt it was not 100% in relation to putting me out there — the whole campaign from posters to funding. I needed that extra push to get me over the line and I didn’t get it. “
Last night, in a further embarassment for the party, Mr Burke was still listed as a “26 Counties Councillor” — the party’s perjorative title for the State.
A clearly embarassed Mr O Snodaigh said: “He should now honour the commitment that he made only weeks ago and return what is a Sinn Fein seat to the party.
“Christy fought the council and by-election campaigns under the Sinn Fein banner with the full support of the party.”
Sinn Fein’s Dail leadership, who helped parachute defeated European candidate Mary McDonald into the Dublin Central constituency for an unsuccessful tilt at the 2007 general election, called for the council seat to be handed over.
But Mr Burke said they would have a fight on their hands.
“If they want put that to the electorate in the north inner city then I’ll stand by it,” he said.
Mr Burke was selected unopposed to stand in the by-election at a party convention in May and publicly backed by Ms McDonald who described him as the “best left wing candidate” in Dublin Central.