A WEST Cork councillor and former general election candidate launched a scathing attack on Fine Gael in front of Minister Simon Harris in Dunmanway on Monday night and resigned from the party, citing bullying and intimidation.
The dramatic development has left the party – once seen as a mighty political force in West Cork – reeling in the constituency which currently has no FG TD in the Dáil.
Cllr Karen Coakley, who was first elected as a councillor in 2019 for the Skibbereen area, launched her attack at the Cork South West Fine Gael constituency agm in the Parkway Hotel, in front of special guest Harris, who had only just spoken about bullying not being tolerated within the party.
In a damning speech, Cllr Coakley spoke about the ‘toxicity’ within the party, where she claimed ‘bullying and skulduggery’ were in play and that she is ‘beyond disillusioned with Fine Gael’. She said: ‘Negativity in Cork South West, created by a few, is spreading like a virus and has damaged the party beyond repair.’
She also slammed the petition which had called for another candidate to be added to the ticket after she was selected as a candidate for general election 2020 (GE2020), alongside Sen Tim Lombard. She said she was ‘slandered’ and had ‘untruths’ told about her by certain people who had made every effort to undermine her in the public eye.
‘These people are responsible for the loss of a Dáil representative in Cork South West. We lost out on a TD due to renegade members,’ she said.
She was also critical of Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Minister Paschal Donohoe for not following through on a promise that those responsible would be reprimanded by the national executive. In fact, they were allowed to renew their membership without question, she said.
Cllr Coakley also claimed that her former Council colleague Katie Murphy had been bullied into ceasing canvassing for her in GE2020 and the pressure of that led her to resigning her Council seat last year. She said the treatment Katie endured was ‘sinful and beyond comprehension.’
Katie Murphy has confirmed to The Southern Star that Cllr Coakley’s comments about her were ‘correct’.
‘Katie is absolutely delighted that I spoke out and feels that my speech gave some justice to her,’ Cllr Coakley also told The Southern Star.
Cllr Coakley said that this had been her first chance in over two years to address party members on the issue because of Covid-19.
‘It was bullying, intimidation and skulduggery at the end of the day, and that’s the reason that I have left the party. They are not listening to people and I could not have my name associated with a party like that any longer,’ said Cllr Coakley.
She described leaving the party as a ‘weight off her mind’ but also noted that it was a sad day for politics in general.
‘I’m not a hypocrite and always stand by my principles, and it’s also sad that the party that stood for so much has come to this. They talk about encouraging women to come into politics and this is how they treat people.’
She said she has been overwhelmed by the reaction to her resignation from some party members, and was even given a hug by Minister Harris after her speech, which received a standing ovation from some sections of the function room.
Many party members, including even some Fianna Fáil members, have told her since that they ‘were beyond disgusted’ at her treatment, she said.
‘People were shocked, but the loyal people know that there was a vindictiveness in the party, so I couldn’t continue under those conditions,’ she added.
Cllr Coakley said she is proud to be a member of Cork County Council and is now an independent councillor, meaning she is the second female Fine Gael councillor in West Cork to resign her seat in the past year, following the resignation of Katie Murphy.
A Fine Gael spokesperson said it deals with any complaint of bullying ‘very seriously’ and that the party overhauled its disciplinary process in 2019 to ensure that it was fit for purpose.
‘There was considerable engagement with Cllr Coakley since the 2020 General Election. Cllr Coakley was made aware of the party’s disciplinary process. No complaint was made to the party.’
Senator Tim Lombard told The Southern Star that Cllr Coakley is someone he has great admiration and respect for. ‘The allegations Karen made need to be investigated and there is no place for this alleged behaviour in Fine Gael. Fine Gael in Cork South West has lost two councillors since 2019 and we cannot and should not dismiss the reasons behind Karen leaving Fine Gael and Katie resigning her seat,’ said Sen Lombard.
‘It may be difficult to address, but we need to address these grievances in a proper and fair manner.’
Chair of the Baltimore branch of Cork South West Fine Gael, Dan Reilly, told The Southern Star that both he and his fellow branch members are very sorry to see Cllr Coakley leave the party, which he said will be a huge loss to Skibbereen.
‘She is an excellent councillor and what happened to her is an absolute disgrace. Party HQ should have had a handle on this whole situation two years ago, and there should have been apologies offered to Karen,’ said Dan.
‘Those who didn’t back her in 2020 sabotaged the election and we ended up losing the seat as a result, when Cork South West is meant to be at the heartland of Fine Gael. What happened then needs to be tackled before we can move forward and look to winning back the seat in the next general election.’
Newly-elected chair of Cork South West Fine Gael, Ger Seaman said that this issue arose before his tenure and is an ‘internal party matter’ which will be dealt with by party HQ.
The two former Fine Gael TDs for the constituency declined to comment: Jim Daly, who chose not to contest his seat in 2020, said he was no longer a public representative, and has no involvement in the process, while Noel Harrington, who lost his seat in 2016, said he was not in attendance at the meeting, so unable to comment.
Meanwhile, officers elected at the agm on Monday night included Ger Seaman (chair), Miah Collins (vice-chair), Marion McGrath (secretary) JJ Walsh/Geoff Wycherley (joint treasurers), Eunice Doyle (social media officer), Noel O’Donovan (membership officer), Andrew Coleman (policy officer), Con O’Leary (equality officer) and John Dineen / John O’Brien (agricultural affairs committee).