Belfast Telegraph

Business as usual for Sinn Fein despite the in-fighting, bullying claims and clampgate

By Kevin Doyle

Imagine if a Fine Gael TD or DUP MP borrowed some bolt cutters and snapped a clamp off his car early one morning.

What about if a Fianna Fail or SDLP councillor released images of her badly bruised legs and claimed the injuries were inflicted when a political spat turned violent.

Think about the furore that would erupt if the Labour Party or Alliance lost one in 10 of their councillors as a result of in-fighting and alleged bullying.

In all of the above cases the media would seize on the controversy, action would inevitably follow and substantial damage would be inflicted to the party.

But not in Sinn Fein. Mary Lou McDonald, the president-elect, laughed when asked what one of her MLAs was doing with bolt cutters. And when Cllr Noeleen Reilly alleged she was beaten up by a close associate of TD Dessie Ellis, the party didn't waste any time seeking to discredit her.

A former colleague was dispatched to publicly accuse her of being the bully and a statement issued saying "the party told Councillor Reilly on numerous occasions that she should report the alleged incident to An Garda Siochana".

Without the full facts (Sinn Fein rarely deals in them), it's difficult to decipher who's right and wrong in this bitter battle of Dublin North West - but the way it has exploded over the past 48 hours shows the danger of Sinn Fein's 'procedures'.

While Gerry Adams has insisted there's no bullying culture in Sinn Fein, he surely can't deny a culture of secrecy. That secrecy meant Ms Reilly didn't go to the Gardai after an alleged assault in March 2016, instead believing that it would be dealt with internally.

It also meant she built up a dossier of allegations against people who the public would expect her to be working closely with.

Not only did she keep her silence "to protect the party", Ms Reilly regularly took to Twitter to defend Sinn Fein while sitting on her own grievances.

As the dispute deepened, a familiar narrative developed with the Ballymun councillor claiming rumours were spread about her and she was isolated by the party.

Eventually the row spilled onto the pages of the Irish Independent after comments were allegedly made about Dessie Ellis. On RTE, the party's health spokeswoman Louise O'Reilly tried to write off the row as a symptom of growing pains.

"We are a growing party. We are a large organisation. We grew very, very quickly. Sinn Fein is not unique in this regard," she said.

Ms O'Reilly is part of the 'generation change' that Ms McDonald (below) will speak about this weekend as she becomes party leader.

"We can lose sight of the fact we have almost 150 councillors who are working away in their constituency. They are localised incidents and they need to be responded to on a local level in the first instance," Dublin Fingal representative Ms O'Reilly said.

Sinn Fein's problems are often down to people who are new into the party and are not familiar with the level of work involved, she proposed. And while she almost accepted some changes to party procedures might be needed, Ms O'Reilly never budged from her opening position that this is normal.

Meanwhile, Gerry Kelly tweeted "no one can be above the law", paid his fine, and moved on.

Kevin Doyle is Group Political Editor for the Irish Independent

Belfast Telegraph

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