To lose one parent, Mr Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune, to lose both looks like carelessness.” The classic, pithy line from the Oscar Wilde play The Importance of Being Earnest.
As Sinn Fein reels from the resignations of four party members, including a member of the Oireachtas and another from the Northern Ireland Assembly, one wonders what advice Lady Bracknell would give to beleaguered leader Mary Lou McDonald?
Following the resignation of West Tyrone MLA Catherine Kelly, the Sinn Fein president said: “The party’s examination of this matter is now complete.”
Sorry, Ms McDonald, it is not quite that simple. The full story has yet to be told. Public funds found to be wrongly “resting” in party political coffers for seven months needs to be explained by more than a few resignations.
True, none of the monies from the Covid-19 Small Business Grant were solicited by anyone in Sinn Fein.
It is very possible that few, or indeed anyone, in the Sinn Fein leadership knew about any of these payments. And, it is probable that the Sinn Fein president exploded with anger when it came to her attention.
What seems improbable is that this political train crash was the fault/responsibility of just four individuals.
Initially, it looked as if Ms McDonald had acted decisively. Two unnamed party officials and former MP-turned-Senator Elisha McCallion promptly resigned.
Ms McCallion, who suffered a humiliating defeat by the SDLP leader, Colum Eastwood, at the polls last year, expressed regret. Even being the niece of republican royalty was not enough save her political career. Obviously, the Dublin Sinn Fein leadership believed the matter to be closed last Tuesday with the resignations.
But how could they grasp the entire implications, or scope, of what happened by a cursory examination over 24 hours?
When Ms Kelly fell on her sword at the weekend, it was clear things were unravelling.
Now, it looks as if the initially rushed statements, following the revelations by The Nolan Show, were part of an attempt by Sinn Fein to ring-fence the already reputationally damaged Deputy First Minister, Michelle O’Neill, and protect the fragile relationship with their coalition partners in the DUP.
As the resignations continued, it may also have been aimed at stopping internal dam walls bursting.
Ms O’Neill lost huge credibility over her attendance at the Bobby Storey funeral and is awaiting the outcome of a PSNI investigation into the issue.
The Storey fiasco was a prime example of Sinn Fein ignoring rules which apply to others.
The public is so angry and fatigued by such blatant flouting of public health messaging by Sinn Fein, they are now sceptical of any Sinn Fein explanations.
In the Republic, Ms McDonald and the southern Sinn Fein leadership suspended their entire party organisation in Dublin South West. This was over the nomination of controversial former MMA fighter Paddy Holohan as South Dublin mayor. Ms McDonald described comments by Holohan as “beyond offensive” and “vile”.
If such drastic disciplinary action was deemed appropriate in Dublin South West, why is not similar action being taken to reform party structures in Upper Bann and West Tyrone?
Surely, there needs to be an overhaul of a system that did not notice public funds “resting” in party accounts?
All of which begs the question: is Sinn Fein in the north unaccountable and a law onto itself?
The Sinn Fein president made it clear in correspondence with the Electoral Commission in the Republic that Sinn Fein operates financially on a strictly partitionist, six and 26-county basis.
(How long Sinn Fein could keep referring to the “26 Counties” if they held the reins of government is debatable.)
This means, in practical terms, that the recent £4m bequeathment to Sinn Fein can only be deployed in Northern Ireland.
So, why then does it appear that some Sinn Fein members decided to risk the reputation of their party by sitting on the receipt of a mere £30,000 of public funds for some seven months? (It is accepted there was no personal gain.)
Why, then, all the resignations? Does it point to a deeper malaise?
There used to be the old clarion call of “Burn everything English but their coal.” Does this now apply to money from the British Exchequer?
If it does, then, as RHI proved, they are not alone in holding a cavalier attitude towards wasting financial resources coming from London.
Ms McDonald’s statement — that, as far as the party is concerned, the matter is complete — is said more in hope than expectation.
Both the Departments of Finance and the Economy will need to examine how the payments occurred and why they did not pick up on it.
Already, the issue has been referred to the PSNI. The Stormont Standards Commissioner will probably take a look, as will the Assembly’s own Committee on Standards and Privileges.
This is far from over.