Sinn Féin rocked by 18 North Antrim resignations

Sinn Féin's chosen replacement for Daithí McKay has prompted mass resignations in North Antrim
Sinn Féin's chosen replacement for Daithí McKay has prompted mass resignations in North Antrim

A SINN Féin councillor and 17 activists have quit the party amid the fall-out from the Jamie Bryson backchannel scandal.

The resignations in North Antrim have been prompted by the party's treatment of former MLA Daithí McKay and the appointment of his replacement Philip McGuigan, who represented Sinn Féin at Stormont a decade ago.

Former finance committee chairman Mr McKay resigned last month hours after The Irish News revealed that he had secretly coached Mr Bryson ahead of the loyalist blogger giving evidence at Stormont last September.

Sinn Féin has insisted Mr McKay and fellow party worker Thomas O'Hara made contact with Mr Bryson without the knowledge of the leadership.

The party announced last Friday that former North Antrim MLA Mr McGuigan would be co-opted into Mr McKay's seat.

But his selection has clearly irked Mid & East Antrim councillor Paul McGuire and 17 other activists in the constituency who announced they were quitting the party in a letter to the Ballymena Guardian.

Among the others to resign is former councillor Monica Digney, who was the first Sinn Féin member to be elected to Ballymena Council.

In a letter outlining the reasons for the mass resignation they said it was "inconceivable" they could remain members given the treatment Mr McKay received.

The letter accuses Sinn Féin of carrying out no consultation and "anointing" Mr McGuigan, a councillor on Causeway Coast & Glens Council, who was replaced by Mr McKay as a North Antrim candidate in 2007.

Councillor Maguire told the Ballymena Guardian that others were "considering their positions" and that more resignations could follow.

Relations between Sinn Féin factions in North Antrim are understood to have been strained in recent months. Mr McGuigan was regarded as an unlikely replacement for Mr McKay, with both schoolteacher Patrice Hardy and fellow councillor Cara McShane previously linked to the vacant seat.

Sinn Féin said it was disappointed by the resignations.

A statement from the party said Mr McKay had acknowledged that his contact with loyalist Jamie Bryson was inappropriate and wrong.

"Sinn Féin's Cuige Uladh (Ulster Council) consulted with party activists in the North Antrim area and, following approval by the party's Ard Chomhairle, Philip McGuigan was co-opted as an MLA for the constituency," the statement said.