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Three Sinn Féin members resign over Covid-19 business grants controversy

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Mary-Lou McDonald. Pic: Frank McGrath

Mary-Lou McDonald. Pic: Frank McGrath

Mary-Lou McDonald. Pic: Frank McGrath

A Sinn Féin senator and two party officials have resigned amid controversy over £30,000 (€33,000) worth of Covid-19 business grants the party incorrectly received in Northern Ireland.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald apologised for what she described as "failures" and announced the resignation of Senator Elisha McCallion and, the Chairperson of the Upper Bann Comhairle Ceantair and another party official in West Tyrone.

Ms McCallion, previously a Sinn Féin MP for the Foyle constituency was a rising star of the party.

She lost her House of Commons seat to Colum Eastwood of the SDLP in 2019.

But she was elected to the Seanad this year and just yesterday contributed to an Oireachtas Transport Committee meeting raising questions about Brexit preparedness with representatives of the aviation industry.

It emerged last night that three separate Sinn Féin offices received £10,000 (€11,000) grants under the North’s Small Business Support Grant scheme

Sinn Féin said it did not seek the funding, which was paid to its political offices in March.

Details of the payments were revealed on BBC Radio Ulster’s Nolan Show.

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Senator Elisha McCallion. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Senator Elisha McCallion. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Senator Elisha McCallion. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Sinn Féin is among a number of organisations and businesses in the North believed to have wrongly received Covid business grants.

In a statement released this afternoon Ms McDonald said that Sinn Féin has established that three party offices incorrectly received money under the Small Business Grant scheme in the north. She said: "Last night I accepted the resignations of the three individuals responsible for these accounts and for not returning the money - Senator Elisha McCallion, the Chair of Upper Bann Comhairle Ceantair and a party official in West Tyrone.

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"The failure to immediately return grants erroneously paid into Sinn Féin accounts is a most serious situation. As party leader I wish to acknowledge and apologise for these failures," Ms McDonald added.

She said that over the course of Monday and Tuesday the party leadership established that three party offices incorrectly received lodgements of £10,000 under the Small Business Grant scheme established by the Department of Economy in March 2020.

“The payments were not applied for and were automatically received as part of the round of grant payments in late March/early April from the Land and Property Service.

“Payments were paid into constituency accounts in West Tyrone and Lurgan, and into Elisha McCallion’s account in respect of her former Westminster office.

“In each case the grant money has been returned in full, with repayments made on Monday and Tuesday of this week.

“These monies should have been returned immediately as no political offices qualified for this grant. The fact that this did not happen is unacceptable," Ms McDonald said.

She said that Sinn Féin has established in each case where the responsibility lay for the administration of the accounts in question and for the reimbursement of these monies.

The Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle met last night and "censured all those involved", Ms McDonald said.

“Last night I accepted the resignation of Senator Elisha McCallion. She accepts full responsibility for the failure to return the grant immediately."

Ms McDonald also said: “The party also accepted the resignation of the party official in West Tyrone who had responsibility for the administration of the account and failed to promptly return the grant money despite being requested to do so by Maolíosa McHugh MLA."

The Cathaoirleach of the Upper Bann Comhairle Ceantair has also tendered his resignation "in recognition of their failure to return the grant payment in a timely fashion, Ms McDonald's statement said.

She added: “The Small Business Grant scheme was established to support struggling businesses in times of extraordinary hardship.

“The failure to immediately return grants erroneously paid into Sinn Féin accounts is a most serious situation.

“As party leader I wish to acknowledge and apologise for these failures.”

In a statement, Sinn Féin Elisha McCallion apologised “unreservedly” for her “poor judgement” and revealed the money was only repaid back in full on Tuesday.

“Earlier this year a Small Business Grant was lodged into a joint account of which I am a named signature with my husband,” she said. “I did not apply for nor solicit this money, nor did I receive any correspondence from the department in relation to it,” she said

“I fully accept that as a named signature on the account that I should have taken extra steps to verify this situation, before it was brought to my attention on Tuesday. The money was repaid in full on Tuesday.

“I apologise unreservedly for the poor judgement I showed in relation to this and therefore, last night I spoke to the party leader and tendered my resignation as a member of Seanad Éireann with immediate effect,” she added.


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