Sunday 16 December 2018

New leader denies party 'circles the wagons' on bullying

Mary Lou McDonald. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
Mary Lou McDonald. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Mary Lou McDonald has claimed her party doesn't 'circle the wagons' when dealing with cases of bullying, despite an attempt by Sinn Féin to gag members in a constituency embroiled in a dispute.

She also repeated her denial that there's a culture of bullying in the party, parroting her insistence that it is dealing with "localised issues".

Around 15 councillors and other public representatives across several counties have quit Sinn Féin or been expelled due to a range of disputes.

Party chairman Declan Kearney last month wrote to members in Dublin North-West ordering them not to discuss internal party matters in the media and warning of disciplinary action if they did.

He reportedly told members: "I cannot overstate how damaging this is to the party."

The dispute in the constituency has seen councillor Noeleen Reilly quit the party, and Sinn Féin TD Dessie Ellis censured for comments he made in the media suggesting she was not fit to serve in the party.

Sinn Féin has claimed Ms Reilly orchestrated an online bullying campaign against a fellow councillor. She denies this and insists she was the victim of bullying.

Last night, Sinn Féin said it was trying to resolve issues in the constituency at the time Mr Kearney's letter was sent. A statement added: "Media reports were only serving to inflame tensions and were counterproductive to the party's efforts."

During her first speech as leader, Ms McDonald spoke about building the party and said "this will mean changes in how we operate". She added: "We must be open, flexible and enthusiastic in creating space for newer members and for the sharing of new ideas".

During her appearance on RTÉ's 'The Week', Ms McDonald was asked about this section of her speech and cases of bullying in the party. She was asked if the culture in Sinn Féin is different to other parties and it was put to her party officials have written to members telling them not to talk to the media in a bid to "circle the wagons".

Ms McDonald replied saying: "I don't accept that."

She said the party has an independent complaints procedure and that doesn't make it different to other parties.

She said Sinn Féin's rules were applied in relation to allegations of bullying in Dublin North-West.

Later, she acknowledged there have been disputes in the party but put it down to Sinn Féin being a growing organisation. She said party members operate for the most part in a "friendly, co-operative and respectful way".

She added: "Members of our party actually resent a description in the public domain that says there is a culture of bullying in the party. There is nothing of the sort. What we have had are localised issues."

Irish Independent

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