Major shake up of Sinn Féin in Derry - Conor Murphy says it’s an internal matter after poorer election results than elsewhere

Speculation is rife over the future of Foyle MLAs Martina Anderson and Karen Mullan after reports they have been asked to consider their positions.

Conor Murphy says the reorganisation in Derry is an internal matter.
Conor Murphy says the reorganisation in Derry is an internal matter.

The ‘Journal’ asked the MLAs if they wished to comment on the reports -which first appearedin the Irish Examiner this week - that they have been asked to step aside as part of a broader reorganisation of Sinn Féin in Derry.

Ms. Mullan said she had no comment to make and the paper could not reach Ms. Anderson yesterday.

Sinn Féin has confirmed it carried out a review of party structures in Derry after a number of disappointing election results.

A spokesperson for the party confirmed: “Sinn Féin established a review group in the Foyle constituency in the context of next year’s Assembly election.

“Derry Sinn Féin has accepted a recommendation from that review to set up an electoral strategy group to oversee preparation for those elections.”

The party would not be drawn on the speculation surrounding the two Derry MLAs and has refused to confirm or deny whether the local politicians have been asked to consider their positions or not.

Finance Minister Conor Murphy, when asked about it on BBC radio yesterday, said: “What it means is that the party, like any sensible party, in a specific geographical area where you are having poorer election results and that’s in contrast to better results right across Ireland then has to recognise that there are issues there that the party needs to examine internally, in terms of the local organisation, and see how they can put together solutions to fix those and to get ready for upcoming elections.

“That’s simply what the party is doing. It’s an internal matter.”

An electoral strategy group is to be set up by Sinn Féin to prepare for next year’s Assembly election in Derry.

The party leadership in Derry has accepted a recommendation to set up the group to run the campaign in advance of the election due to take place in May 2022 at the latest.

Sinn Féin confirmed the establishment of the group after it was reported some members of the Derry Comhairle Ceantair had been asked to stand aside. But it is remaining tight-lipped over claims the party’s two MLAs Martina Anderson and Karen Mullan have also been asked to consider their positions.

Ms. Anderson, a veteran republican and former IRA prisoner, was co-opted onto the current Assembly as a replacement for Raymond McCartney who stood down just over a year ago. Ms. Mullan, a long-standing community worker, was co-opted in 2017, when Elisha McCallion left the position after successfully contesting the Westminster election for Foyle.

The interventions are understood to stem from disappointment over recent elections results in Derry.

While Sinn Féin eclipsed the SDLP in Derry for the first time with its vote share in the Assembly poll of 2017 and followed this up in the Westminster election a few months later the party locally has suffered reversals since then.

It lost its position as the main party on Derry and Strabane Council, dropping from 16 to 11 councillors between 2014 and 2019. The SDLP increased its seat tally from 10 to 11 over the same period in the council district. In Derry City the number of seats held by Sinn Féin fell from 10 to 7 while in Strabane the drop was from six to four.

The SDLP, maintained nine seats in Derry and gained a seat in Strabane. There was further disappointment for the party when Colum Eastwood won 57 per cent of the vote in the Westminster election of December 2019.

Sinn Féin’s Elisha McCallion received 20.7 per cent of the vote - a spectacular collapse from the 39.7 per cent that had made her the first republican to be elected in a General Election in Derry since Eoin Mac Néill in 1918.