Third resignation from Social Democrats board following Kisyombe controversy

Board members resign over party’s response to claims about local election candidate

The departure of  three board members from the Social Democrats marks a deepening crisis for the party as it struggles to address issues around the candidacy of Ellie Kisyombe. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

The departure of three board members from the Social Democrats marks a deepening crisis for the party as it struggles to address issues around the candidacy of Ellie Kisyombe. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

A third member of the Social Democrats executive board has resigned, The Irish Times has learned.

Chris Bond, who represents Dublin South West on the party’s national executive, stepped down at the same time as party chairman Joe O’Connor and vice chair Carly Bailey.

A party spokeswoman confirmed Mr Bond’s resignation, adding that there had been no further resignations from the executive board.

The departure of the three board members marks a deepening crisis for the party as it struggles to address issues around the candidacy of Ellie Kisyombe. Allegations of inconsistencies in the background history of Ms Kisyombe surfaced last week in the Sunday Times newspaper.

Ms Kisyombe is originally from Malawi and has spoken of her experience of living in the direct provision system for much of the last decade.

The party has become sharply divided over the issue after it was decided to conduct an internal review into her background. The decision to hold the review followed a discussion by the national executive that lasted several hours. It is understood that the national executive vote on the review was 9-2 in favour of carrying it out.

Social Democrats co-leaders Catherine Murphy and Róisín Shortall raised concerns about the impact of the controversy, while other members are determined to stand by the candidate. Ms Kisyombe, who has lived for some years in the direct provision system, received considerable media attention when she announced her candidacy.

It is understood the party has not yet discussed the planned review process with Ms Kisyombe. When contacted on Sunday she did not wish to comment on the controversy.

The National Executive of the Social Democrats met on Sunday morning when Peter Tanham (Dún Laoghaire) was appointed as interim party chair and Sally Aquilina (Meath West) as interim party vice-chair.

Concern

A spokeswoman for the Social Democrats said at the weekend that “the co-leaders wrote to the national executive and expressed concern at the allegation that there may be some inaccuracies in Ellie’s back story, while also appreciating the complexities and severe difficulties posed for those caught up in the asylum process”.

“As a result, the national executive subsequently met and has decided to carry out a review to work through this with Ellie.”

An email from party chairman Mr O’Connor, seen by The Irish Times, states that he hoped to avoid the step.

“However, I cannot stand over the decision made by the national executive last night, or how the party intends to proceed from here,” he said.

“I believe we have been forced to view this issue through a narrow lens, and as a result seem intent on pursuing a course of action which I believe is wholly inconsistent with the interpretation of a majority of our members and supporters, and will as a result inflict irreparable damage to the party in my view.”

Mr O’Connor wrote that alternatives to the course of action chosen by the Social Democrats were and are available, “if our response to this issue had not been framed with a pre-determined outcome from the start”.

Ms Bailey, who is vice-chair of the party and a general election candidate for the party in Dublin South-West said she “cannot stand over a decision which includes a statement that will go to the media, which in effect could and will be construed as the party essentially abandoning a candidate and especially one so vulnerable as a person living in direct provision”.

The issue has caused major division within the party, with the Dublin Central branch on Saturday evening contacting members to affirm its support for Ms Kisyombe.

“Dublin Central Social Democrats remain dedicated to supporting our friend Ellie Kisyombe’s candidacy, alongside Carol Deans, for local election and would be both honoured and proud to have such fine candidates represent the North Inner City, as new and diverse voices for transformative politics.”

Other tensions

There are also significant tensions within the party over the decision to contest the upcoming European elections, with the co-leaders believed to hold reservations around the party challenging for an MEP seat.

The matter has led to a strain between the party leadership and north inner city Dublin councillor Garry Gannon, who is actively pushing to contest the Dublin MEP constituency this May.

Internally the party has said it would not be funding a European challenge, and any candidate would have to self-finance their own campaign.

Mr Gannon and the party’s political director Anne-Marie McNally had previously stated their intention to contest the selection convention for the Dublin MEP race. However shortly afterwards Ms McNally withdrew her name from consideration.

In a message to a private Facebook group of party members, Ms McNally said she decided against challenging for an MEP seat following “detailed conversations with experienced people whose judgement I trust”. She said both the financial cost of running a European election campaign, and the “party’s interests” were considerations in changing her mind, according to the message, seen by The Irish Times.

She said instead she would focus on running in the local elections, and challenging for a Dáil seat in the Dublin Mid-West constituency, in the event of a general election. Ms McNally previously worked as Ms Murphy’s parliamentary assistant.

In relation to the European elections, a party spokeswoman said “the challenge for a party of our size is how to prioritise our resources.” A decision was taken by the national executive to open a selection process for a candidate for the Dublin constituency, she said. “A number of candidates have come forward and the internal selection process is underway,” the spokeswoman said.