Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein blasted as 'totalitarian' over refusal to disclose poll data

Jim Allister blasts Sinn Fein 'totalitarian' over vice-presidential contest secrecy

Mary Lou McDonald (left) and Michelle O'Neill at the ard fheis
Mary Lou McDonald (left) and Michelle O'Neill at the ard fheis

By Claire O'Boyle

Sinn Fein has been branded "totalitarian" after failing to reveal the voting breakdown from the party's vice-presidential election.

Upper Bann MLA John O’Dowd was unsuccessful in his move to unseat Michelle O’Neill as number two in the party, but the precise numbers have not been made public.

TUV leader Jim Allister said: “The fact these voting figures have not been released says more about Sinn Fein than all the propaganda they try to put out.

“It offers an insight into the totalitarian nature of the party. What have they got to hide? Why not release them? But this comes as no surprise to me.

“I have always thought they were totalitarian in their approach — and this has proved it as far as I’m concerned.”

The vote took place at the Sinn Fein ard fheis in Londonderry on Saturday. Members voted between former Education Minister Mr O’Dowd and Mrs O’Neill, who has been deputy leader since February 2018.

Mr O’Dowd congratulated Mrs O’Neill after the result was announced, saying in a tweet that he looked forward to working with the Mid Ulster MLA in the future. He also thanked those who had supported and voted for him in the contest.

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Mr O’Dowd’s challenge for the position was revealed by this newspaper in August.

Mid Ulster MP Francie Molloy was critical of the move and said the timing was wrong for a leadership challenge, while Fermanagh-South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew threw her support behind Mr O’Dowd.

In its statement of principles, Sinn Fein says: “We propose absolute accountability and transparency in government.”

The contest for the vice-president role did not involve public debate, and no hustings events were held, which would have given candidates the chance to explain their plans for the party publicly ahead of the vote.

On Sunday a Sinn Fein spokesperson said the same process was used for a contested post at last year’s ard fheis, understood to be the role of general secretary.

The spokesperson said: “With almost 400 cumainn (branches) and 60 comhairlí ceantair (district councils) across the island it was deemed impractical to organise hustings for the position of leas uachtaran (vice-president). All candidates were afforded the opportunity to distribute material to all party structures and to speak with all ard fheis delegates.”

The spokesperson added: “Representatives of the two candidates for the position of leas uachtaran were present at the counting of the votes.”

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald last week told the Irish News that the party’s ruling executive had discussed how the contest should best be conducted, “bearing in mind it’s an internal position, bearing in mind that the electorate is the party membership and the party delegates”.

She said both Mrs O’Neill and Mr O’Dowd were members of the party’s ard chomhairle and had been involved in deciding the “best, most orderly and fair” way to run the contest.

In another development, Michelle Gildernew did not seek renomination to the party’s ard chomhairle. The DUP’s Emma Little Pengelly, standing for election as MP for South Belfast, said while a change in leadership for Sinn Fein “is a matter for them” the party needed to change what she claimed was “their blockade of the Assembly”.

Mrs O’Neill became Sinn Fein’s northern leader in January 2017, replacing former Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

After Saturday’s result she said: “The contest was conducted in a very comradely way across the party where John O’Dowd and I campaigned internally and put forward our platform and vision to the Sinn Fein membership.

“John is a long-standing republican and a highly regarded colleague and I very much value his political contribution and friendship.

“We are both committed to advancing our party, so that we are fit for purpose as a political movement now and in the future.”

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