Sinn Fein rising star quit over payments

The failure to “immediately” repay funds awarded incorrectly by the Small Business Grant scheme may have cost one of Sinn Fein’s rising stars her political career.

Wednesday, 8th December 2021, 8:22 am
President of Sinn Fein Mary Lou McDonald

Elisha McCallion, who had undergone a meteoric rise within just a few short years from local councillor in Derry City and Strabane to becoming the first ever Sinn Fein MP for Foyle following a remarkably close-run election, resigned from a position in the Irish Senate in the wake of the payment scandal last year.

She has not returned to elected office.

The grant scheme, described by Northern Ireland Auditor General Kieran Donnelly as “inherently risky” in yesterday’s report, hit the headlines late last year when it emerged £30,000 had been paid to three Sinn Fein offices.

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The payments came under intense scrutiny from BBC Radio Ulster’s ‘Nolan Show’ along with several other media outlets, including the News Letter.

Sinn Fein later said the £30,000 was paid back on October 27, 2020 – months after it had been awarded but after the payments had come under media scrutiny.

On October 30, during a media briefing, Sinn Fein’s Northern Ireland leader Michelle O’Neill revealed money had been paid directly into “Elisha’s account”.

She added: “She [Ms McCallion] was the individual that was responsible for returning it; so she had sole responsibility and therefore we’ve accepted her resignation.”

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald also apologised for the party’s handling of the affair.

“The Small Business Grant scheme was established to support struggling businesses in times of extraordinary hardship.

“The failure to immediately return grants erroneously paid into Sinn Fein accounts is a most serious situation.

“As party leader I wish to acknowledge and apologise for these failures.”

She added: “I accepted the resignation of Senator Elisha McCallion.

“She accepts full responsibility for the failure to return the grant immediately.”

Several other party officials resigned following the debacle and, on October 31, West Tyrone MLA Catherine Kelly also stepped down. She has since been replaced by Nicola Brogan.