Are Sinn Fein resignations a blip or a sign of deeper malaise?

Daithí McKay's resignation has brought internal divisions within Sinn Féin in North Antrim to the surface
Daithí McKay's resignation has brought internal divisions within Sinn Féin in North Antrim to the surface

WHILE there's been rumblings of discontent among Sinn Féin personnel in North Antrim for some time, it was thought that the powerful party machine would eventually mend the differences between the warring factions.

However, that was before Daithí McKay's shenanigans with Jamie Bryson were exposed by The Irish News, throwing the normal order into chaos.

There's been much debate about whether Mr McKay fell on sword or if he was pushed out by the party leadership, but regardless of who initiated it, his departure has had a catalytic effect on the divisions in his constituency.

The mass resignation of 18 members, including one councillor, has set the second precedent for Sinn Féin in as many months.

Up until now, such widespread dissent was unheard of within the party; likewise was somebody of the standing of Co Tyrone-born republican veteran Thomas McNulty publicly calling for Gerry Adams to stand down.

Add to this the mess that was the assembly election candidate selection process in Fermanagh-South Tyrone and a pattern emerges which suggests internal discipline isn't what it once was.

Connolly House will dismiss these episodes as unrelated and par for the course, insisting all political parties hit bumps in the road and that keeping everybody happy in such a large organisation is impossible.

There is some truth in this and despite these setbacks, Sinn Féin continues to present a united face that its rivals can only envy.

Nonetheless, the cumulative effect of this negative publicity won't help a party whose vote, in common with the wider nationalist bloc, is already slipping.

Nor will the inconsistency that's apparent in choosing Philip McGuigan to succeed Mr McKay, given that he was replaced by the latter as Sinn Féin's favoured North Antrim candidate in 2007.

Two relatively young female councillors had been linked to the job but they were overlooked in favour of a man in his mid-40s who appeared to previously fallen out of favour with the party leadership.

There's nothing to suggest the wheels are coming off Sinn Féin's northern machine but recently the party's been acting more like the SDLP under Alasdair McDonnell.

However, as the former SDLP leader learned, the more you attempt to forcefully rein in dissent the more you risk alienating your rank and file.