More will resign from Sinn Fein, warns former member who quit over 'toxic' atmosphere
The first councillor to quit Sinn Fein over an alleged culture of misogyny has warned that further resignations are imminent unless party bosses intervene.
Omagh representative Sorcha McAnespy said she was exposed to a "toxic" atmosphere within the party after she tried to strike alliances within unionists and other political opponents.
She claimed she was continuously undermined and sidelined by mostly male colleagues - forcing her to quit Sinn Fein just two years after she topped the poll for the party in the local elections.
Ms McAnespy (37), a qualified engineer and mother-of-three, recently joined Fianna Fail and is set to run for the party in the 2019 local elections.
She is expected to play a leading role in assisting Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin in securing a political breakthrough for the party in Northern Ireland.
Ms McAnespy took the decision to quit Sinn Fein in 2014 over what she described as a culture of misogyny and nepotism.
Many other politicians and members have taken the same move south of the border - forcing Sinn Fein to deny that it has a bullying problem.
Ms McAnespy said she believed the party was in denial and that other resignations would take place.
"It takes a lot of soul searching, especially when you are a young member of the party. You can think, 'Maybe this is not how it is supposed to be'," Ms McAnespy said.
"It takes a long time for you to actually gather up the courage to actually speak out and go and ask for help.
"In every one of these cases I'm seeing, I'm thinking these people have seen if there's been some course of action they could have taken to make things better.
"They (Sinn Fein) really need to start taking these concerns seriously. Because they are going to lose more people."
For Ms McAnespy, it was her efforts to build bridges with unionists that resulted in her being isolated within Sinn Fein, she claimed. She cited one community event where she was personally commended by two high-profile senior loyalists for her efforts in bringing people together.
This sort of approach, she said, was encouraged by the late Martin McGuinness. But others in the party disagreed.
"For me that was making progress. I thought that was good. But it wasn't appreciated," she said. Ms McAnespy continued that she was now focused on her work as a councillor and a member of Fianna Fail. She is a candidate for the upcoming election for the party's national executive.
"They are the republican party, they are the party that want to have a United Ireland as well," she said of Fianna Fail.
Meanwhile, another former Sinn Fein councillor organised a meeting in Waterford last weekend for disaffected members and ex-members of the party.
More meetings are expected to be held in the coming weeks.
Melissa O'Neill, a councillor in Kilkenny, was expelled from Sinn Fein last year, after a disciplinary process over video footage that emerged of a public argument.
She alleged she had been bullied prior to the video and was considering legal action against the party.