After over a year of failed attempts to get the party to address, in any meaningful way, the persistent attempts by Fine Gael Party members to silence, harass and undermine me, I am resigning my membership of Fine Gael.
When FG pursued me to run for them in the local elections in 2014, with a view to also running in the general election 2016, I asked for and received assurances that the sitting T.D. and grass roots membership in Kildare were absolutely supportive of me running for the party. Before agreeing to run, I sought and received assurances that the FG Party was fully supportive of my views about new politics and about standards in public office. Soon after I was elected to Kildare County Council, FG councillors attempted to block my nomination to the board of the Kildare Wicklow Education and Training Board; a board which is now the subject of investigation by the Department of Education and the Comptroller and Auditor General.
There have been a number of attempts to silence me both on the Kildare Wicklow Education and Training Board and in Kildare County Council for raising issues relating to irregularities and/or improper practice. Attempts to discredit me when I proved difficult to silence happened from the bottom up in the party – all the way from the local FG branches, the majority of whose members were supporters of the local T.D.- Deputy Heydon, to the FG group in the Council, and right up to the National Executive on which Deputy Heydon also sat.
The most senior members of the party, including the Taoiseach – Leo Varadkar, Secretary General – Tom Curran, Minister for Equality – Charlie Flanagan, Chairperson of the Parliamentary Party – Martin Heydon, former Director of Elections – Brian Hayes and others in the party, have been aware of the grinding harassment and isolation I have experienced as a FG councillor in Kildare. Yet, have failed to address it. Although Brian Hayes clearly articulated to me the low esteem in which the upper echelons of the party hold councillors, for a time I believed that the best way to make any progress was to speak out internally about the poor behaviour I had experienced and to give the party every opportunity to address the old boys club culture in FG, as I had experienced it.
Last July 2017, frustrated by the complete lack of progress on a formal complaint made by me in November 2016 about fellow FG councillors in Kildare, I asked the Taoiseach to personally look into the complaint and why it had not been progressed. I provided the Taoiseach with a copy of the formal complaint which detailed my experience of harassment and isolation, including evidence of FG councillors attempting to collude with others to block my motions being heard in Kildare County Council. My complaint had not been progressed, while on the other hand the Party had removed the whip from me for six months for speaking out about the behaviour and actions of one of my fellow councillors. Weeks later in August 2017, I received an email from Tom Curran, almost nine months after I had lodged my official complaint, in which he stated that;
‘… the Disciplinary Committee do not intend to hold a hearing into the said complaint. However they are of the view that the matters raised point to a number of shortcomings.’
The letter went on to state that the;
‘Disciplinary Committee intended to recommend to the Executive that a group of Councillors from outside Kildare be charged with the responsibility for devising protocols pertaining to the holding of group meetings. Such a protocol would deal with the calling of group meetings, conduct of such meetings, minuting of decisions and communications among members. The said group of Cllrs would also devise a protocol covering arrangements with other political groupings including the minuting of arrangements entered into. We would appreciate if you would become involved in such a group.’
Tom Curran also noted that my six month whip suspension period had passed, further adding that;
‘We hope we will hear from you in that regard.’
In effect, the Party accepted that a group of councillors needed to be brought in from outside the county to explain to the FG councillors in Kildare Council, some of whom are in politics for decades, how to conduct a meeting and how to communicate with their colleagues. Yet, those same councillors, whose behaviour had triggered the need for such a unique and unprecedented intervention, were to attract no consequences whatsoever, not even questioning before FG’s disciplinary committee as had been required of me. I expressed my extreme disappointment at the obvious differences in the way complaints about others and complaints about myself had been dealt with. I decided against taking up the offer to apply for the return of the whip unless and until there was any real evidence of an honest intent to address the issues in Kildare. Seven months later, the review of FG protocols and procedures in Kildare, that was to start in September 2017 and finish by December 2017, has not yet started. I doubt it ever will. I no longer believe the assurances given to me by FG prior to running for them in 2014, that FG is a party of new politics. My experience has proven otherwise. How can the FG party espouse accountability and transparency in the conduct of public affairs when it refuses to hold itself to account?
FG is excellent at paying lip-service to New Politics, to the importance of accountability, transparency and fairness in public service. It is excellent at paying lip-service to the value of attracting and retaining more women in politics. But saying something isn’t the same as believing it. FG has an inconsistent and often secretive approach to complaints of bullying and harassment within the party. Their response is driven more by the goal of protecting seats than it is by any principled stand against bad behaviour.
I know, having spoken to a lot of women in politics over the last couple of years, that I am not alone in my experience either inside or outside Fine Gael. This year we celebrate the centenary of the first time women were allowed to vote in Ireland and stand in Dáil elections. We have come so far, yet, not far enough. Women, if and when they succeed in overcoming massive obstacles to getting selected and elected, are reluctant to speak out about bad behaviour for fear of being viewed as weak. They are even reticent to support other female politicians who speak out for fear of recriminations from their typically male-dominated party, their male colleagues, or from their party members, all of whom they rely on for votes, for canvassing and for support in Council or Dáil chambers. Too many female politicians pull the ladder up after themselves. How many of those who huddled around an upset Senator Catherine Noone in the Dáil bar have spoken out to support her or called for her bully’s time to be up. Or to say… I believe her.
The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is #PressForProgress. Lets press for progress in this centenary year by asking women in politics to speak out, and support female colleagues who speak out about bullying and intimidating behaviour, just as we have done for women in other sectors.
In the meantime I will continue the work I have been doing in the constituency as a completely independent councillor. I am looking forward to this final year of my term of office in Kildare County Council and to what might yet be achieved. On a positive note, freed from the burden of attempting to seek justice and change from within the FG party, I am excited to refocus energies into new projects, including a soon-to-be launched virtual anti-corruption hub.
It has been a very intense, and at times, very difficult four years since I was first persuaded to run. I want to thank my family, friends and my supporters for your enduring support and loyalty particularly during the most difficult times. You are the reason I do what I do. You make it worthwhile. For that, I am hugely grateful.