SF veteran: North Antrim party ‘dysfunctional’

Philip McGuigan, who has replaced Daithi McKay as North Antrim MLA, has little support among the grassroots said one activist
Philip McGuigan, who has replaced Daithi McKay as North Antrim MLA, has little support among the grassroots said one activist

A life-long republican who has quit Sinn Fein over its treatment of ex-MLA Daithi McKay said the party in his region is now “dysfunctional”.

Cathal Newcombe was one of 18 members who were revealed this week to have quit in protest over the matter.

Mr Newcombe told the News Letter that since the news broke on Tuesday morning, he had received calls from three more Sinn Fein members, who said that they were quitting too.

The dispute began when Sinn Fein announced on August 18 that Mr McKay – the former MLA for North Antrim – had resigned his seat.

That followed revelations that Mr McKay had secretly been in contact with a loyalist campaigner before his appearance at a hearing of the Nama inquiry – an inquiry which Mr McKay himself was chairing.

Among the Sinn Fein members from the north Antrim area who have walked out the party in solidarity with Mr McKay are one serving councillor, Paul Maguire, as well as two former councillors: Monica Digney and Mr Newcombe.

Mr Newcombe held a seat in the old Moyle District Council from 2005 to 2011.

He describes himself as having been a republican for more than 60 years.

He also described himself as a “pacifist” son of a British soldier, who had partly been inspired to become a republican by the actions of British colonialists in Africa (he also said that he had married a Presbyterian woman).

Now aged 72, he said about a decade ago Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams had marked his long involvement in the movement by giving him a plaque.

His resignation, and that of the others, was revealed in an article in the Ballymena Guardian.

“The party in North Antrim is now dysfunctional, as we speak,” said Mr Newcombe on Wednesday.

“There’s been a few, that have been advertised, that have left.

“But last night I had three more people ring me, locally.

“They’d had enough. That was it.”

He added: “Whenever it comes to an election and you’re climbing up poles, you’re knocking doors, you’re putting out leaflets – these are people who are going to do these jobs...

“Take them out of any organisation, and it does hurt.”

Asked if Philip McGuigan (Mr McKay’s replacement) commanded support among the North Antrim grassroots, he said: “No. No. He was one of the most unliked persons.”

When contacted on Wednesday, Sinn Fein referred the News Letter to a statement which it had issued the previous day.

In it, the party said Mr McKay had admitted his contact with a witness was “inappropriate”.

“We are disappointed at the decision of the individuals to resign,” said Sinn Fein, adding that it will continue to provide “first-class representation” to the people of North Antrim.