SINN FÉIN MEMBERS DIVIDED OVER CATHAOIRLEACH VOTE
THERE was a surprise split in the Sinn Féin camp within the Wicklow County Council chamber on Monday as half of the party’s members abstained from voting for a party colleague.
Following the nomination of Cllr Michael O’Connor for the position of Cathaoirleach by Cllr Nicola Lawless and Cllr Mary McDonald, Councillors John Snell, Gerry O’Neill and Oliver O’Brien abstained.
Councillors O’Brien and Snell also abstained from voting for Cllr Lawless for the position of Leas- Chathaoirleach while Cllr O’Neill was not present for that vote.
Sources say the very public divide is a protest against what local councillors believe is a lack of consultation from Sinn Fein headquarters with those at grass roots level and efforts from ‘outside Wicklow’ to control the party workings within the county.
It appears that half of the councillors accepted the party’s decision to nominate Cllr O’Connor and half did not. There is also a significant level of unrest amongst members over the party’s decision to appoint Cllr Nicola Lawless as group leader following the election of John Brady to Dáil Éireann.
After the meeting, Cllr John Snell told The Wicklow People that his decision to abstain from voting was ‘nothing personal’ towards Cllr O’Connor. ‘I take the business of Wicklow County Council very seriously and I believe the position of Cathaoirleach requires a huge amount of experience. I could not vote for anybody who has not been through the election process and who has not been chosen by the people and who is only here a matter of weeks,’ he said.
Cllr O’Neill told this newspaper that while he is ‘absolutely committed’ to Sinn Féin, Monday was not the first time that members have gone against party directions.
‘Indeed at the last council meeting following a directive from the party to support the placement of the new childrens hospital in St. James’s, five of the six councillors voted against it,’ he said.
‘I understand we are an evolving party and maybe it’s a case of the party been unsuitable for some.’
Following the meeting, Cllr O’Connor said that the nominations were agreed at a Sinn Féin meeting prior to the AGM and the results were emailed to any members who were not present.
He said that he was not disappointed by the outcome of the vote but would have expected the support of his own party members. Describing the matter ‘as an internal party issue’, Cllr O’Connor said that he expects the six councillors will continue to work well together.
Cllr Mary McDonald said that she was not aware prior to the AGM that voting would go in this manner but said that it is ‘ business as usual’.
‘ These things happen in politics. We still have to work together and do what the people put us here to do,’ she said.
Cllr Nicola Lawless declined to comment and efforts to contact Cllr O’Brien were unsuccessful.
A spokesperson for Sinn Féin declined to comment on suggestions that the three members who abstained will be disciplined but said that ‘at this stage, we want to ascertain why these councillors failed to support the party’s nomination’.