Monday 16 July 2018

Mother of Hollywood star finds herself at centre of Sinn Féin plot twist

Panel was startled when Tara Reynor O'Grady turned up in hotel meeting

Hollywood actor Jack Reynor and his mother Tara
Hollywood actor Jack Reynor and his mother Tara
Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

IN a small meeting room in a hotel close to the Dublin-Meath border, three senior Sinn Féin figures sat and waited. They had earlier been briefed by the party's overarching body, the ard comhairle, about an internal dispute that needed to be dealt with promptly.

The row among six councillors in Co Wicklow was generating extensive negative media coverage and was, according to the local TD John Brady, bringing the party into "disrepute".

Exhaustive efforts by an internal grouping, which included the party's 26-county director Ken O'Connell and former IRA commander Seán 'The Surgeon' Hughes, had failed to produce a resolution.

The top brass within Sinn Féin were drafted in.

John Snell
John Snell

The team included Sam Baker, the chairman of Sinn Féin in west Belfast, and senior strategist Brian Tumilty, who was convicted in the early 1980s for possession of one of the weapons suspected of having been used in the Kingsmill massacre of 10 Protestant workmen in 1976.

He was sentenced to seven years in jail.

Colleagues have described Tumilty as softly spoken and a good listener, who played an instrumental backroom role in some of Sinn Féin's recent successful campaigns.

Completing the outfit was Caoilfhinn Ní Dhonnabhain, the wife of Gerry Adams's former communications director, Seán MacBrádaigh.

Ms Ní Dhonnabhain is also the political director for Midlands North West MEP Matt Carthy.

The trio tasked with bringing an end to the dissent had arranged to meet three councillors, one by one, as part of the day's hearing.

They would sit through hours of discussions in which those at the centre of the dispute would blame each other for the chaos that had gripped the party in the constituency. The panel was startled, to say the least, when an uninvited guest arrived in the lobby of the hotel.

Tara Reynor O'Grady is the mother of the famous actor Jack Reynor and a close friend of one of the councillors involved in the dispute, Gerry O'Neill.

Oliver O'Brien
Oliver O'Brien

Ms O'Grady describes herself as a human rights defender and had been providing advice to Mr O'Neill and the two other councillors stripped of the party whip, John Snell and Oliver O'Brien.

The Sinn Féin bosses initially told Ms O'Grady that she was not entitled to sit in on the meetings. She told them she was a party member and that all three were entitled to be accompanied by a witness.

Reluctantly, the three figures allowed her inside the meeting room. As the hearings kicked off, Ms O'Grady took extensive notes without muttering a word.

The mother of a Hollywood star had found herself at the centre of a different kind of plot entirely. And it was one that would see further twists along the way.

Just days after the hearing ended, a peculiar letter arrived at Ms O'Grady's home in south Dublin. From Sinn Féin headquarters, it said that a recent application to renew her party membership had been rejected.

A €5 note - the cost of the membership - was inside.

Ms Reynor O'Grady says she strongly suspects that the decision to reject her application was linked to her representation at the hearing, which took place in late April.

The row itself has now escalated further, with the local TD John Brady claiming that two of the three councillors campaigned against marriage equality, in conflict with the party's official stance.

And he has suggested that the third councillor, Mr Snell, embarked on a series of junkets. The claims have been categorically denied, with the councillors now understood to be considering legal action.

In some ways, the bitter war of words in the Wicklow constituency is just part and parcel of party politics.

But what will prove worrying from the perspective of the Sinn Féin leadership is that Wicklow is one of several examples whereby Sinn Féin politicians are speaking out against the party. Cork East, Kilkenny, Westmeath and now Tipperary have all seen complaints, allegations of bullying and other offences and internal party investigations.

Former TD Sandra McLellan effectively quit politics as a result of her alleged mistreatment.

Former general election candidate and mayor of Athlone Paul Hogan claims that he was subjected to intimidation and a kangaroo-court-style interrogation - claims the party denies.

The Sinn Féin leadership may deny that it has a bullying problem. But as we know, some members of the Sinn Féin leadership have entered denial mode before when under pressure.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Also in this section