An ex-Sinn Fein councillor has spoken out about the pressure she said that she was under to donate regular chunks of her salary to the party despite struggling to get by as a single mother of three.
Sorcha McAnespy has described the battle which she underwent within the west Tyrone branch of Sinn Fein as she encountered expectations that she should transfer up to £90 per month to party coffers out of her annual councillor’s ‘wage’ of about £14,000.
She contrasted the situation she had faced with Sinn Fein’s “nice and fluffy” image of its representatives all enjoying a standard industrial wage.
Sinn Fein party headquarters have responded to her comments by saying that donations to the party are voluntary.
The Omagh councillor (who now sits as indepedent, but was recently appointed to the 15-strong national executive of Fianna Fail) said she had given up an engineering job to devote herself full-time to the council.
She was elected a Sinn Fein councillor in the old Omagh District Council in 2011, then topped the poll for the party in the 2014 election to the new Fermanagh and Omagh supercouncil.
She said that under the old council, west Tyrone Sinn Fein automatically took out a sum of cash from her pay, amounting roughly to 7% of the total.
When the old council began to transform into the new one the arrangements got more complicated, and the local party started asking for cash.
She said: “I says: ‘No harm to anybody, but there’s something not right about handing over cash in a council meeting’. You’d have the group leader going round collecting tenners and £20 notes.”
Ms McAnespy said she repeatedly raised concerns about her own ability to pay.
She said the £14,000-or-so council allowance was her only source of income, and at the time her two children were aged under 10 plus another one in their mid-to-late teens.
She said at times she had no oil in her tank, and spoke of having to share a fish supper between her and the three children because of her tough financial situation.
She remembered being in Donegal once when her phone rang. She saw it was a fellow Sinn Fein member, and her “stomach turned” because she was worried the call “could be looking for money”.
“You ever have that situation where you owe somebody like a tenner or something, and everytime you meet them you don’t have a tenner?” she said.
She recalled telling one party member: “’Sometimes I don’t have the cash. I don’t have money.’ And I refused to hand over cash to them...
“One person, Pat Doherty [former MP], did say to me: look no, don’t pay it. You don’t have to pay it.”
However, others were “trying to over-rule him”, she said.
“I sat there in front of my colleagues... I says: Can you please take my circumstances into consideration please.
“I’ve three children depending on me. I was trying to appeal to their better nature.
“I had another man turn around and go: ‘Well, I’ve two dependents’.
“But his dependents he’s talking about were 28 and 26 at the time!
“Some of them had two incomes coming in. Some of them had two jobs. I said I’m trying to pay a mortgage, I’m trying to keep a car loan.”
The expectation of donations was not waived, she said.
Ms McAnespy’s account was put to Sinn Fein, and it responded: “All donations from party staff are voluntary.
“Allowances in the Fermanagh and Omagh District Council area are paid directly into the representative’s own account and some councillors continue to make voluntary donations to the party.”