Sinn Fein official in Lurgan caught up in support fund scandal
and live on Freeview channel 276
The chair of Sinn Fein’s Upper Bann Comhairle Ceantair (constituency organisation) is one of three party officials to resign after the news of the payments broke earlier this week.
A former rising star in the party, Elisha McCallion, last night announced she had quit the Seanad – the Republic of Ireland’s upper house of parliament – with immediate effect.
Joining her in resigning from their roles were two other party members (whom SF declined to name), including the Upper Bann chair.
Mrs McCallion’s departure is over her involvement in a scheme that saw three £10,000 blocs – intended for struggling small businesses – paid into accounts which were ineligible to receive them.
Mrs McCallion had enjoyed something of a meteoric rise in recent years, from being mayor of Derry and Strabane District Council, to an MLA, MP, and latterly entering the Seanad.
She said: “Earlier this year a Small Business Grant was lodged into a joint account of which I am a named signature with my husband... I fully accept as a named signature on the account I should’ve taken extra steps to verify this situation, before it was brought to my attention on Tuesday.”
All the cash was repaid by Tuesday this week – just as ‘The Nolan Show’ was preparing to break the story.
Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald has issued an apology over the whole debacle, which saw three £10,000 grants incorrectly paid into accounts connected with her party.
However, the party has remained tight-lipped about the identities of two other Sinn Fein figures who have also resigned their posts – the chairman of the Upper Bann constituency organisation, and someone described only as “a party official in west Tyrone”.
The root of the whole episode dates back to March, when a scheme was unveiled to give £10,000 to each NI businesses which is small enough to claim business rate relief.
The aim was to help them deal with the knock-on effects of lockdown.
Some people had to apply to the scheme, but others received their grant from the Department of the Economy automatically, based on information the government already held.
Politicians’ constituency offices were explicitly barred from the scheme, which closed to applicants in May.
But ‘The Nolan Show’ reported this week that three such grants were paid into accounts connected with Sinn Fein, despite the eligibility criteria showing they were not entitled to it.
Stephen Nolan had said one of the payments related to Elisha McCallion – which was especially odd because she has not held any seat in Northern Ireland for almost a year (she is a senator in the Irish parliament though, with an office in Dublin).
Mr Nolan also spoke to West Tyrone MLA Maoliosa McHugh, who indicated the West Tyrone party branch had got one of the grants.
It was not clear precisely where the other £10,000 payment went, until Sinn Fein yesterday revealed that it was paid to a “constituency account” in Lurgan.
The party has now repaid all the money – but this only happened on Tuesday, immediately ahead of the expose ‘The Nolan Show’ was planning.
Yesterday (Thursday, October 29) Sinn Fein HQ issued a statement from Mrs McDonald which read: “Over the course of Monday and Tuesday of this week, the Sinn Fein leadership established that three party offices incorrectly received lodgements of £10,000.
“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.”
She added that all this cash should have been handed back “immediately” – and “the fact this did not happen is unacceptable”.
It said the party’s high council (ard chomhairle) met on Wednesday night, and “censured” those responsible.
She acknowledged the money was meant only for “struggling businesses in times of extraordinary hardship”.
She concluded: “As party leader I wish to acknowledge and apologise for these failures.”
Chemist chain apologises for offensive video by staff members - read here.
Thank you for reading this article. We’re more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by Coronavirus impacts our advertisers.
Please consider purchasing a copy of the paper. You can also support trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription of the News Letter.