Fourth SF resignation in wake of Covid-19 grants controversy
MLA for West Tyrone Catherine Kelly stands down as representative with ‘immediate effect’
Catherine Kelly apologised ‘unreservedly’ over the issue.
A Sinn Féin Assembly member at the weekend became the fourth person to lose their job over the payment of three £10,000 (€11,000) Covid-19 business hardship grants to party offices in Northern Ireland.
On Saturday evening Catherine Kelly announced that she had tendered her resignation with immediate effect as MLA for the West Tyrone constituency.
The grants were erroneously paid to three Sinn Féin offices by the North’s Department for the Economy in late March and April.
They were not repaid until after BBC Radio Ulster’s Nolan Show raised the issue on Monday, October 26th.
This led initially to Sinn Féin Senator and former Foyle MP Elisha McCallion and two party officials, one from West Tyrone and the other from the Upper Bann constituency, resigning from their positions.
His solicitor said that this money did not go to his personal account but to Sinn Féin’s West Tyrone account.
There was no pressure on Mr McHugh to resign because he said when he became aware of the payment he directed that it be immediately repaid, but that his instruction was not carried out.
On Saturday, however, it emerged that one of Mr McHugh’s MLA colleagues in West Tyrone, Ms Kelly, was a signatory for several years to the account to where the money was lodged. As such, she said, she “had a responsibility to ensure it was operated to the highest standard”.
‘I have tendered my resignation’
“That did not happen in this case,” said Ms Kelly. “I believe that as a public representative this is not acceptable and therefore I have tendered my resignation as a member of the Assembly with immediate effect.”
She apologised “unreservedly” over the issue.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said she had accepted the resignation and that the “party’s examination of the matter was now complete”.
She added: “The grant was unsolicited and has been repaid in full. The failure to return the grant immediately is unacceptable. Catherine fully accepts that she did not discharge her duties as a public representative in this regard.
“The incorrect lodgment of small business grants into three Sinn Féin accounts came to the attention of the Sinn Féin leadership over the course of Monday and Tuesday last.
“As leader I once again acknowledge and apologise for the clear failure to immediately reimburse public money.”
Following a complaint by the DUP, the PSNI is “considering the matter as to whether a criminal investigation is required” into the three payments to Sinn Féin.
The Assembly’s standards commissioner also has been asked to investigate.
The grants were designed to assist businesses facing trading difficulties because of the Covid-19 restrictions. The Department for the Economy said that 452 payments worth £4.5 million, from a total of 24,700, were made incorrectly. More than 70 have been repaid.
“Work is under way to recover all ineligible payments,” said a department spokesman.