There's something rotten in the state of Denmark. Or, in east Cork, certainly, anyway. It hasn't been an easy week for Sinn Fein, as the saga surrounding previously relatively unknown names of Councillors Melissa Mullane and Kieran Mc Carthy exposes yet again the secrecy in which Sinn Fein is still shrouded.
Amid a swirl of allegations and counter allegations, the real story is unclear. And that's the point - we don't know the extent of the findings of an investigation which for Sinn Fein at least, warranted the expulsion of one elected member, the suspension of another, and the standing down of their entire structure in east Cork.
The investigating officer knows. The ard chomhairle knows. The person at the centre of the expulsion claims he doesn't know. Sinn Fein claims he does. Confused? You will be. If party members do know, their lips are very tightly sealed indeed. It's a case of "whatever you say, say nothing".
We know that in excess of 50 former members claimed to have resigned, heavily criticising the party while doing so. They don't call it the Rebel County for nothing. It is quite an unprecedented situation for the Sinn Fein party, and no doubt will be causing a headache in HQ. For a party largely used to strict obedience and unwavering support for its leadership, it's very damaging indeed.
Kieran McCarthy for his part, has accused Sinn Fein of "stabbing him in the back", and stated it was a "blatant attempt to override the democratic process", namely his intention to challenge sitting TD Sandra McLellan in the election convention and "stifle the will of the Sinn Fein membership".
It wouldn't be the first time. On Wednesday, Jonathan O'Brien, responsible for the recommendations in the report, denied the expulsion had anything to do with the forthcoming convention, and claimed that McCarthy had been told what he had been expelled for. That was as far as it went, as O'Brien repeated ad nauseam "I can't comment", citing the councillors' right to appeal, or "it's an internal party matter".
It was a case of Sinn Fein - redacted.
Parties are entitled to conduct reviews into the conduct of its members, and indeed to expel or suspend who they like. But, when those members are elected officials accused of wrongdoing, the public are entitled to at least know a broad outline of what they stand accused of. They foot the bill for them in taxes, after all. Elected representatives should be held accountable to the electorate - and Sinn Fein are supposed to be held to the same standards as any other party. The political bar of standards may not have been set very high to date, granted, but the expectation is still there that Sinn Fein will move away from the secretive 'kangaroo court' era, and from battening down the hatches to protect their own at all costs - to make the transition into normal politick. It shows no signs of doing so.
The east Cork debacle also raises the issue of just how inconsistent Sinn Fein is. Jonathan O'Brien stated the party expects members "to adhere to certain standards", which is slightly ironic given the fact Sinn Fein has not suspended one of its current members for taking it upon themselves to act as judge and jury in matters of child abuse - yet, it sees fit to expel and suspend others over points that are not yet fully clear.
Whatever your view on SF, there is no denying they have had an annus horriblis. Yet, even amid sex abuse scandals, their bungling of welfare reform in the North, and the liability that is Gerry Adams, its membership has largely remained scarily loyal. There is something innately eerie with a reported mass resignation of membership - when almost none of those disaffected members break ranks to give their personal opinions. The code of omerta is still alive and kicking within Sinn Fein.
The party, by its reluctance to answer probing questions satisfactorily on any matter, only reinforces that code. It is straitjacketing its own membership, holding them in a metaphorical stranglehold which leaves them unable to either explain logically, or answer criticism of its actions on any contentious issue. That's what leaves Sinn Fein open to the charge of cult politics, and, crucially it's what makes the party unfit to govern. If Sinn Fein can't be open and honest about their own party matters, how on earth would anyone expect it to be accountable or transparent regarding the very big matters of running this country?
It's a no-brainer. As it stands, if its record of omerta is anything to go by, Sinn Fein could not run a piss-up in a brewery, let alone affairs of government in the Dail. Sinn Fein won't be truthful about the past, they refuse to be open in the present, so why on earth would anyone entrust the party with their future?
The party that consistently complains of lack of transparency from all and sundry, fails to grasp that practising what you preach is a necessity if you seek to land a political blow on others.
Unless and until Sinn Fein is held to the same standards as every other political party, and stops showing contempt for the electorate with its sneaky, secretive manoeuvres, responsibility in governing is a long way off.
Sinn Fein has themselves alone to blame for that.