Split rocks dissident group as 23 members walk out in protest against Belfast leadership
A new dissident republican party has been rocked by a split as up to 23 Belfast members resigned in support of a high-profile republican expelled from the group.
The members who quit have accused Saoradh leaders of behaving like "a kangaroo court and lynch mob" in their expulsion of leading republican Harry Fitzsimons.
They claimed that Fitzsimons, who was the party's Belfast chairman, had made allegations of "financial irregularities" before he was expelled.
They also said that he had separately clashed with Ardoyne republican Dee Fennell, whom they accused of "egoism" and "trying to take control of Belfast with his clique".
The Belfast Telegraph asked Saoradh to comment on the resignation and the allegations made by its former members, but the party hadn't responded at the time of going to print.
Fitzsimons is one of the most senior republicans in Northern Ireland. The 48-year-old west Belfast man is currently out on bail facing charges of directing terrorism, preparing terrorist acts and being in a banned organisation - the IRA.
Sources claimed that his two co-accused, Colin Duffy and Alex McCrory, continue to support the Saoradh leadership. Duffy's brother Paul sits on its national executive as public relations officer.
Sources said that McCrory remained a member of the party, although other family members had left in support of Fitzsimons.
Fitzsimons, Duffy and McCrory have denied all the charges they are facing. The charges relate to a gun attack on a police convoy on north Belfast's Crumlin Road in December 2013. Their trial is expected to take place later this year.
Reports of a political split between Fitzsimons, McCrory and Duffy will shock republican grassroots as the trio have been extremely close for years.
The Saoradh members who resigned claimed that they had taken the "vast majority" of Belfast activists with them. The split doesn't involve other areas outside the city.
Saoradh, which is Irish for 'liberation', is supported by New IRA prisoners on both sides of the border and has headquarters on the Falls Road. Its premises were raided by police earlier this month.
The party was formed just 10 months ago with Duffy, McCrory and other prominent dissidents attending its first ard fheis in Newry's Canal Court Hotel. Saoradh's chairman is ex-Tyrone IRA prisoner Davy Jordan. His wife, former IRA prisoner Sharon Girvan, is also a member.
Sources said that Fitzsimons had been initially suspended from the party and was later expelled by text message.
Ex-prisoner Tarlach McDhonaill, who had replaced him as acting Belfast chairman, has resigned in support of Fitzsimons, as have the party's Belfast secretary Damhnaic Mac Eochaidh and veteran Ballymurphy republican Sean Cahill. In their resignation statement, the 23 members said they had no confidence in Saoradh's leadership.
They accused some leaders of laziness and elitism, viewing themselves "as superior, with superior knowledge, superior ability and superior wisdom while contributing nothing to the day-to-day running of the party" and dismissing "other Saoradh members as insignificant and inferior".
The members who quit said: "The appearance of self-interest, over that of the party interest, by some executive members is causing deep concern and unease among Belfast members, leading to the belief that a two-tier system of treatment for members, and the existence of a clique."
They accused the leadership of having "formed themselves into a kangaroo court and lynch mob" in its dealings with Fitzsimons.
They asked why "serious allegations" made by him months before his expulsion "were not properly investigated".