Deirdre O’Shaughnessy speaks to former Sinn Féin now Independent Cork County Councillor from the Cork East constituency, June Murphy. Ms Murphy left the party two years ago due to bullying and is speaking publicly for the first time on the subject in this interview.
Deirdre: Limerick County Councillor Lisa Marie Sheehy recently left Sinn Féin citing bullying and a culture of bullying throughout the party. But she’s only the most recent departure from the party. Previous to this there have been a number of high-profile departures in Cork City and county, predominately in the county, but none of those who left have spoken out about their reasons. Today, I’m speaking to Councillor June Murphy and it’s her first time going on the record about leaving Sinn Féin and why she left. June, you were first elected for Sinn Féin in 2014.
June: That’s right.
Deirdre: Tell me a bit about how you joined the party and how your election came about initially.
I suppose I was in the party a number of years ago. I would have run for Sinn Féin in 2002 in the general election and I had left the party for some time and I moved out of the area. And when I came back I was spotted and members of the Fermoy Cumann contacted me through Facebook asking to meet me. So I met them. And I left that night and I thought to myself: No way. Right? So I got a phone call then from a person in Sinn Féin and he had actually told them not to come near me that he wanted to meet me himself. So he asked would I’d meet him. I said I would and I met him in the Firgrove in Mitchelstown and we went over things. He was telling me about the state of the area – that it had been inactive for years, that it needed to build the structure, build the party in the area – that what was there were doing nothing. So my understanding was my role was to be brought back in and to start building, building on the party in the area. So that’s what I did. He said it had completely changed. It was more professional. You know, it all seemed very new and changed and I felt excited about it, you know? And you know just wanted to see how it had changed and so on. So we did and from that moment on the next year was an absolute nightmare. So you know and Sinn Féin were on a bit of a crest as well at that stage but the amount of hassle that I had during those short few weeks was, I thought I was – I couldn’t believe it, like. You know, there was constant changing of canvassing dates. I would a get a text from Fermoy telling me that, you know, we’re going canvassing, such and such,then I’d get a phone call from that organiser and he would change the times but not tell his own cumann…
June: …so then they blamed me.
Deirdre: So was it deliberate do you think? Or was it just disorganised?
June: Oh, absolutely! Absolutely.
Deirdre: It was deliberate.
June: I believe it was, like.
Deirdre: From Day One.
June: Yeah, but I didn’t realise it at that stage, you know. Because to be honest with you I didn’t realise I was actually walking into the middle of a civil war and that’s the only way to describe what was going on in East Cork.
Deirdre: And I suppose Cork East isn’t the only part of the party now where these problems have arisen.
We’ve seen them now in Limerick with Lisa Marie Sheehy, we’ve seen it in West Cork a little bit and there have been other councilors around the country who there’ve been problems with and there’ve been resignations I think. Would you say it goes further up? Is there rot there beyond, say, these two individuals who made life difficult?
June: Oh, absolutely. There isn’t – I mean, they know what’s going on. I mean Sandra was emailing them – Sandra had plenty of private meetings with TDs, other TDs – Mary Lou, Gerry Adams, Declan Kearney – I mean it went right to the top like. Not one phone call did I ever receive of any of them. Not one. And it just amases me for a party that talks about transparency, justice, democracy – all those words – none of it exists in the party. None of it.
Deirdre: I suppose there’s a level of these things where there’s bickering between candidates, all that sort of stuff – that happens in Fianna Fáil, it happens in Fine Gael. I’m sure it happens in all the parties but what is the difference in Sinn Féin do you think?
June: It’s really, really aggressive. And no one’s stopping them. They promoted my bully. It’s a culture of men. It gives you the illusion that they support women. They tell the women what to do. And…
Deirdre: …And would you say that goes to the top?
June: Oh, yeah. I was told one day, they were like – Do you think (now what was it?) Do you think, I’m trying to remember what it was now – it was about – when Mary Lou and when Mary Lou goes to the gates that she does exactly what we’re doing – she does what she’s told and that’s it. I mean for the, the – when you look at how prominent some of the TDs are up there and I like some of the TDs up there, I mean really strong characters – they’ve no voice. They have parliamentary meetings going on up there and no one speaks up at them.
Deirdre: So who’s in charge?
June: It certainly isn’t who’s sitting in Leinster House.
Deirdre: Okay. Do you think Gerry Adams, when he goes, will still be pulling strings?
June: Absolutely, yeah. Yeah. And I think as well that, you know – it’s even funny they, like I hear Vincent Browne, I actually like Vincent Browne and I admire him a lot but it’s funny when I’ve seen shows where he has said: But sure Sinn Féin have a very democratic way of electing their party leader. They do in their arse. Do you know what I mean? You’re told who to vote for. You’re told who to vote for all the time. And he’s always the only name. What’s democratic about that? You know I was elected onto the Cúige as Equality Officer, right? We never had a meeting. And they were shocked when they found out I was on it – my organisers. They’re were going mad – how did she get on that? – you know?
And then you’ve councillors carrying out investigations on others. Like there’s nothing independent or transparent about it. But all the complaints in the country go straight up to the same structures. And they still try and say it’s a localised issue and it’s rampant in the country. I know of several other councillors in the country, because we obviously have met through different conferences that, you know, were organised by the party – we do talk and like they have said about their experiences and every one of them had the same kind of systematic abuse – because it’s all I can describe it as – as abuse, you know?
Deirdre: Is it like they try and make you believe it’s not happening?
June: Oh, you think you’ve gone mad.
Like, you actually do question your sanity because you think you’ve gone mad. It’s the manipulation. It’s they keep you stringing along. If they think they’ve gone too far there’s like promises made or there’s – you’re treated with extra care or you know you’re just strung along all the time, like. The effects of what I went through with that, like it’s hard for me to admit like, but I had complete burnout after it, like you know, extreme anxiety. You know, you’re walking on eggshells all the time. You’re never told you’ve done a good job. You don’t get support. You’re completely isolated or you’re made to feel that way. You’re afraid to open your mouth in case you say the wrong thing and you’re always waiting to be attacked, you know? So, yeah.
Deirdre: Okay. In terms of the future for you – they asked you when you left the party to resign your seat and you didn’t. Are you going to run again?
June: I don’t know. That’s the honest truth. Like I have options that I have to weight up and see. See what way it goes.
Deirdre: Do you think for the other councillors who left, say Lisa-Marie Sheehy, who’ve I mentioned, she’s only twenty-three, I suppose Sinn Féin has publicised a lot – it’s the youth of its candidates, the fact that it’s had a lot of women, people who are new to politics who maybe wouldn’t be in politics otherwise – do you think that is maybe part of the reason for people leaving? Are they naive? Or is Sinn Féin picking people because maybe they’re not familiar with systems?
June: Well you see like part of the reason, I believe, they pick them so young is ’cause they’re perfect for grooming. And they’re enthusiastic, they’re ambitious, they’re educated. Like, I have seen comments under some Sinn Féin articles where people say, you know, they’re idealistic. What’s wrong with that? You know, what’s wrong with being idealistic and being passionate? They’re very intelligent people, you know? They’re quite capable. You know and they are the future like, so why not? But yeah, it’s just, it’s, I just – I feel sorry, I really do. I worry about people in that party. I couldn’t – I’d an opportunity to run the general election if I wanted. I was told I’d be given the full support of the party and I couldn’t. I couldn’t sit up there and sit down and know, and know, that this is what was really going on, you know?
And to work for the people who did that to Sandra still in the party to do it to me? And there was a suspension in the party, and this is very funny: There was a suspension in the party and it was appealed. And there was only – think of it this way – over seventy people interviewed and I know what was on some of those papers and two lines were all that was put to this person. And one was to do with, from what I hear, post – cumainn not delivering posters, leaflets, which is pathetic. And the other one was to do with the ballots in Fermoy, which I actually never complained about. It was a joke. I think that they knew what they were doing all along. They just strung us along. And they played a game. That’s all. They’re masters at it.
Deirdre: What would you say to people who have voted Sinn Féin in the past maybe, as you say, and that surge that happened in 2014 and would be thinking about voting for them again?
June: They need to question them, you know?
They need to question them. They need to find out what is going on with them like. You know like they just need to be more vocal and – you know, what’s going on? What are you doing? Why is this behaviour continuing? You know, if this is going on in your own party how can you govern a country, you know? They can’t even manage what’s going on in their own party. You know, if they’re willing to treat their own members like that I’d be worried about what way they would treat their – the people on the ground. I have had prominent Republicans say to me if they ever got into power they’d leave the country – they’d rob them blind. You know? Like, their own long-term members know exactly what they’re like. Power and money mad, that’s all. I know people are going to go out there and they’re going to say: Well, politics is dirty, surely she should have known that, surely. Yeah, I know that. But this was at a different level completely. Unnecessary, undealt with by people who are in positions of power who shouldn’t be there. They’re not trained for it. I remember Gerry Adams saying, when the review started, that he would publicly come out. We’re still waiting for that. I’m still waiting to find out the contents or what happened in the review. We were brought, called up, into a room in Barracks Street. Put in the same room with some of the bullies. We were told we weren’t allowed to ask any questions and we were told that some members were expelled, some were suspended. That is the limit of what we were told.
Deirdre: Was there ever any time where you were in fear?
June: There would be occasions alright, you’d think. Like I was told on the phone when they asked for my seat back, they said, the person had said to me: I know you’re not going to give it back, June, but I have to ask anyway. They sent me to ask. And I like, I did get angry I says they can ‘f’ off like. And they said: Look, if you leave Sinn Féin alone – we’ll leave you alone and you can’t open your mouth, he said, because they’ll go after you. They’ll sue you. And then you know, I kind of think: Well I own nothing so let them sue away. I got angry texts, alright, from other members, like members there that, you know, would have served a lot of time in jail – that make you nervous and I got one of them – but they were angry. And I got one telling me never to go inside Charleville again if I knew what was good for me – by a cumann member down there. I was talking to somebody who said: You know, they’re gong to send me to you to look for the seat back. What are you going to do? You know? I said well, you better make sure I don’t get up, you know? Because I’ll come at you like, I’m not – I’m a strong person but that broke me. That absolutely broke me. It took a long time to be able to speak in council. I avoid radio. I was shaking like a leaf knowing I was coming in here today. I avoid newspapers if I can. And yeah, it’s been tough. Very, very tough.
Deirdre: Okay. Councillor June Murphy, thank you very much for coming in. (ends)