Friday 23 February 2018

Sinn Fein pay scandal spoils new leader's big day

Party closes ranks over secret salary deal as Mary Lou McDonald is gifted the top job

Gerry Adams and Mary Lou McDonald. Photo: RollingNews.ie
Gerry Adams and Mary Lou McDonald. Photo: RollingNews.ie

Philip Ryan and Cormac McQuinn

Mary Lou McDonald's unopposed appointment as Sinn Fein president was tainted yesterday by the ongoing controversy surrounding the secret pay deal the party organised for a senior TD.

Despite the pay scandal, Ms McDonald and her Sinn Fein colleagues have refused to reveal whether they have similar arrangements to the deal struck with Dessie Ellis which has allowed him keep his entire Dail salary since 2011.

This is despite a long-standing claim by Sinn Fein that party members only accept the average industrial wage and the rest of their earnings after tax are spent on constituency expenses. A 2016 Sinn Fein pay review recommended that TDs could accept €39,500 of their €93,000 Dail salary.

None of Sinn Fein's 23 TDs, including Ms McDonald and Gerry Adams, responded when asked by the Sunday Independent if they had organised secret pay deals with the party. However, Sinn Fein did reveal that it does not require its TDs or senators to provide the party with any financial records to prove they are only taking the recommended salary.

"It is a matter for the party's elected representatives whether or not they adhere to the recommendation of the party. The party does not oversee the implementation of this recommendation as it is not mandatory," a spokesman said.

"Elected representatives are not required to provide the party with any written records in relation to this," he added.

Last week, the Irish Independent revealed Mr Ellis had come to an arrangement with the party that allowed him keep his entire salary because he could not afford to live on the average industrial wage.

Fianna Fail TD Niall Collins accused Sinn Fein of "taking the public for fools" with their pay policy as their TDs cost the taxpayer as much as other politicians.

"It's a completely fake and dishonest presentation by Sinn Fein," he said. "Their TDs cost the Oireachtas and the taxpayer the same as every other TD and party. Sinn Fein is taking the public for fools in this regard and it won't work."

The silence over the Sinn Fein pay policies came as Ms McDonald was anointed as Sinn Fein president-elect at an event in Belfast.

As expected, Ms McDonald will become the party's unelected leader after Gerry Adams steps down from the position after more than three decades.

Sinn Fein members and elected representatives will now not cast a vote to elect Ms McDonald which mirrors the recent appointment of Michelle O'Neill as the party's leader in North. Ms O'Neill was appointed by the party's ard comhairle to replace Martin McGuinness when he stepped down as Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister.

Ms McDonald, a Dublin Central TD, has been unfailing in her support of Mr Adams throughout her political career. She has backed him when he said Provisional IRA murderers should not be imprisoned and she defended him over his handling of the sexual abuse allegations made by Mairia Cahill and Paudie McGahon.

She also weighed in behind Mr Adams in his support for jailed tax evader Thomas 'Slab' Murphy in the run up to the last general election. And Ms McDonald also defended Mr Adams when he was criticised for tweeting a derogative term for black people after he watched the Quentin Tarantino movie Django Unchained.

Speaking in Belfast, Ms McDonald thanked the Sinn Fein members who nominated her for the uncontested election and said she felt an "enormous sense of pride".

"I don't for a moment underestimate the scale on a personal level and on a professional level," she said. "The truth is, many friends have correctly said to me that I have big shoes to fill, but the truth is no one will ever fill Gerry Adams's shoes."

Sunday Independent

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