Clare Sinn Féin has been rocked by the shock resignation of its Ennis Local Election candidate, Cathal O’Reilly, over anti-Traveller comments he made three years ago.
While Mr O’Reilly’s name will appear on the ballot sheet as a Sinn Féin candidate, he confirmed his resignation from the party in a statement to The Clare Champion on Wednesday evening.
Despite this major setback, Sinn Féin is still hopeful of winning a council seat in West Clare or Shannon.
The Clare Champion understands his decision to quit the party was made after anti-Traveller comments he made on social media on October 19, 2011, emerged this week. They were regarding “knackers being kicked up and down the dale”.
The newspaper also believes he made derogatory comments about AIB, Xtra-vision and the Queen of England in separate posts.
According to one well-placed source, Mr O’Reilly was told to quit after senior party figures were given a copy of other comments he made about local organisations early on Wednesday afternoon.
In the last two days, Mr O’Reilly confirmed he had made anti-Traveller comments that were attributed to him.
“I did make those comments. It was three years ago and I am deeply ashamed of them now. I should not have made them. I’m sure none of us are proud of everything we ever said or did in our lives.
“Being in Sinn Féin has taught me a lot over the past few years and human rights and respect for all people are some of those things. It is something I should not have had to learn. While I no longer hold such views, the fact that I previously held them has been publicised now and this has caused embarrassment to me, my family and to Sinn Féin.
“Because of this, I offered my resignation to the party earlier today and it has been accepted. I now wish to move on with my life as a private citizen,” he said.
Efforts to contact Mr O’Reilly to establish whether he would continue to represent constituents as an independent candidate, if elected on Friday, proved unsuccessful.
Less than 24 hours before a storm erupted on social media, Mr O’Reilly posted the following post on his Facebook page: “Another great day canvassing, getting huge support at the doors. Let’s hope that support translates into number one votes this Friday for myself, Cathal O’Reilly for Ennis, and my cousin, our EU candidate, Liadh Ní Riada”.
Ennis Sinn Féin branch treasurer, Kevin Halpin described his resignation as a “bolt from the blue” and stressed that he or no party member agreed with or shared his comments. Mr Halpin said his departure is a very disappointing end to a very promising campaign, just two days before the election.
One Facebook user, who highlighted the post made by Mr O’Reilly three years ago, criticised another user for making a ridiculous comment that the former Sinn Féin candidate was “upset because his wife is an immigrant”.
“I am a Sinn Féin supporter and I don’t need to be listening to this from my own party,” she stated.
Another Facebook user described his original post as a “disgusting remark”.
Meanwhile, another strong showing by Independent candidates looks the most likely scenario after this Friday’s Local Elections, according to local political analysts.
Former Defence Minister, Tony Killeen wouldn’t rule out Sinn Féin winning a seat with one of their two candidates – Mike McKee in Shannon and Noleen Moran in West Clare – if the party wins locally half of its national rating, of up to 22% in recent polls.
The possibility of Kilrush being left without a sitting councillor, following the abolition of the town council, difficulties with Fine Gael’s vote management in East Clare and a Fianna Fáil gain in Shannon are just some of the predictions made by five shrewd political observers.
In total, 90,620 people living in Clare are entitled to vote for 69 candidates battling for 28 seats in four municipal districts on Friday. This includes 28,936 in West Clare; 23,797 in the Ennis; 20,291 in Shannon and 17,693 in Killaloe.
The electorate for the Euro South election, which is being held on the same day, is slightly less at 88,454, as citizens from non-EU countries are only allowed to vote in the local elections.
Four councillors, Patricia McCarthy (Ind), Sonny Scanlan (FG), Tommy Brennan (Ind) and Michael Kelly (FF), have decided not to seek re-election.
It is expected possible alliances between independents and other parties will be decided before the first meeting of the new 28-strong council body on Friday, June 6.
The Clare Champion hosted a special 2014 Local Election debate in the Cairde restaurant in Ennis to establish the likely winners and losers after the votes are cast. The participants believe the most likely poll-toppers are long-serving Independent Councillor Christy Curtin in West Clare; Councillor Joe Cooney in Killaloe, who captured an impressive 2,780 first preferences in 2009 and former Independent TD, James Breen in Ennis.
All acknowledge Ennis is something of a lottery to predict, with 27 candidates in the field.
Tony Killeen predicts 16 candidates will be eliminated with a very substantial vote, leaving 11 fighting it out for eight seats. “One of the difficulties is that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have too many candidates in Ennis. Both parties stand to lose a seat. FF have five and FG have six candidates. It would require a great transfer to deliver an extra seat. It gets a party a higher first preference vote, it comes with a risk in terms of seats. Labour have two candidates, which I don’t understand,” he said.
Dr Moosajee Bhamjee predicts Fianna Fáil will win two seats, Fine Gael two, Labour one and three Independents, with James Breen getting the biggest vote. “Independents, Michael Guilfoyle and Paul O’Shea could win a seat,” he added.
However, Mr Torpey believes Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael will each win three seats, James Breen will retain his seat while and the last one is up for grabs between the Ann Norton, Paula McNamara and Fine Gael.
The prospect of Kilrush town being left without a sitting councillor has added additional spice to pre-election speculation concerning West Clare.
While Fianna Fáil are running five outgoing councillors and expect to win four, Mr Killeen warns they could finish up with three because the Kilrush factor is one question and Sinn Féin is the other.
“If Christy is as strong as we think it will be difficult for a Kilrush candidate and SF, unless they get transfers off of him,” he said.
Mr Torpey believes Sinn Féin, Fine Gael and two Fianna Fáil outgoing councillors will be battling for the last seat. “The FF candidate with the lowest vote who will be eliminated has to give an advantage to FF for this seat,” he said.
Mr Carey pointed out Fine Gael Kilrush Town Councillor, Marian McMahon-Jones and Independent candidate, Ian Lynch, who failed to get the FG nomination at the selection convention, would have to transfer very strongly between each other to ensure one Kilursh councillor was elected.
The pundits warned that Mayor of Clare, Joe Arkins, will be facing a battle for survival in the new Killaloe Municipal District if the surplus from 2009 poll topper, Joe Cooney, is too high.
“I think Joe Cooney will get over 3,000 votes, which is too high for FG. FG will have three to 3.5 quotas in the first count. If that only translates into two seats, I can see blood on the floor of the West County Hotel.
“Half of Joe Cooney’s surplus will go everywhere. That will bring FG under the three quotas. Joe Arkins needs to take more than Pat Burke of Joe Cooney’s transfers. If he doesn’t, he will be fighting for the last seat,” stated Mr Torpey.
He also pointed out if Pat Hayes has a surplus of 200 or 300 votes Fianna Fáil “have no chance of three seats”.
The analysts predict outgoing Labour councillor, Pascal Fitzgerald and Cathal Crowe (FF), who have moved from the Killaloe to the new Shannon area, John Crowe (FG) and Sean McLoughlin (FG) will be elected.
By Dan Danaher