Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has signed a pledge, along with all of her party's candidates, to be guided by instructions from its ruling body - despite insisting that she does not "take instruction from anyone".
The pledge, which Sinn Féin requires all candidates to sign, promises that “in all matters pertaining to the duties and functions of an elected representative, I will be guided by and hold myself amenable to all directions and instructions issued to me by An Ard Chomhairle of Sinn Féin”.
Ms McDonald has repeatedly been questioned about evidence before the cash-for-ash inquiry in Belfast which heard that the then Sinn Féin minister for finance in Stormont, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, asked permission from senior unelected figures linked to the party before cutting the costs of the controversial scheme.
Other parties have accused Sinn Féin of being guided by unelected party and former IRA figures, with both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil citing it as a reason to rule out any possible coalition deal with the party.
Ms McDonald told RTÉ on Sunday: “I can assure you that I don’t take instruction from anyone. I do of course, as any sensible person, always seek out good advice and good counsel, but that’s a world away from suggesting you’re under the influence of another person.”
A Sinn Féin spokesman said the party’s ard chomhairle is “no different to the governing body of any other political party, trade union or sporting organisation”.
“Sinn Féin’s Ard Fheis - which is representative of our entire membership - decides our policy platform. Our policies are published for all to see, and our public representatives - elected by the people - stand for election on the basis of those policies. This pledge commits our representatives to deliver on the policies we present to the electorate, and the role of the Ard Chomhairle is to ensure that our representatives honour that commitment,” the party said in a statement.
The party supplied a list of all members of the ard chomhairle.
Sinn Féin opponents have seized on the evidence from the cash-for-ash inquiry to accuse the party of still being under the influence of former IRA figures.
Ms McDonald has consistently rejected the accusation that she is not in full control of the party. She said at the weekend that the “political establishment” is “desperately reaching for any excuse to exclude Sinn Féin” from government.
She has disputed suggestions that Mr Ó Muilleoir was seeking permission from senior party and former IRA figures to agree to changes suggested by his officials in the controversial renewable heat incentive scheme.
Texts and emails in late January 2017 show that Mr Ó Muilleoir sought approval from senior republican Ted Howell, who was an IRA go-between in the 1990s and one of Gerry Adams’ closest advisers.
Mr Ó Muilleoir had been asked to approve a plan to slash the costs of a scheme that by then had been closed to new entrants for almost a year, but officials fretted that he was taking too long.
Fearing that efforts to bring RHI under control would fail, David Sterling, then the civil service head in finance and now Northern Ireland’s most senior official, told a fellow mandarin by text that he feared Mr Ó Muilleoir was “acting under instruction”.
Despite being urged by officials to accept the curbs, Mr Ó Muilleoir also consulted with Padraic Wilson and Martin Lynch, both long-standing Republicans who are widely believed to have been senior members of the IRA.
Mr O Muilleoir rejected the suggestion that he was asking the men for permission. Ms McDonald said he was simply consulting with the party.
Current members of Sinn Féin’s ardchomhairle
Mary Lou McDonald TD - Party President
Michelle O’Neill MLA - Party Vice President
Dawn Doyle - General Secretary
Declan Kearney MLA - Party Chairperson
Pearse Doherty TD - Party Treasurer
Conor Murphy MLA - Party Treasurer
Matt Carthy MEP
David Cullinane TD
Chris Hazzard MP
Paul Maskey MP
Cllr. Ronan McGinley
Martina Anderson MEP
Mary Ellen Campbell
Senator Máire Devine
Sinéad Ennis MLA
Emma Sheerin MLA
Deirdre Hargey MLA
Liz Kimmins MLA
Philip McGuigan MLA
Caoimhe Archibald MLA
Cllr. Darren O’Rourke
Cllr. Natalie Treacy
Rosie Ní Laoghaire
Cllr. Donna McGettigan
Cllr. Mícheál Mac Donncha
Cllr. Matt Garrett
Aodhan Ó hAmhaill