*Deputy Violet-Anne Wynne TD (IND). Photograph: Natasha Barton

CLARE TD, Violet-Anne Wynne (SF) has said she was called “an effin eejit” by a female member of Sinn Féin when details of her unplanned pregnancy emerged.

On Thursday night, Deputy Wynne sent shockwaves through the political sphere in Co Clare when she announced she had renewed her membership of Sinn Féin and was leaving the political party. Speaking on Friday evening, she confirmed that party leader Mary Lou McDonald had yet to contact her subsequent to the decision.

Dublin Bay North TD, Denise Mitchell (SF) who is the party’s Deputy Whip in a statement said Sinn Féin had worked “extremely hard” over the past two years to resolve “challenges at constituency level” and that this work was “continuing”. She described the Clare TD as a “valued member” and added, “Unfortunately, Violet-Anne has now decided to leave Sinn Féin. We wish her and her family the very best for the future”.

Giving her response to the statement, Deputy Wynne remarked, “For the last two years I’ve been giving huge benefits of the doubt because that’s exactly what I had been hearing whenever I voiced these concerns about these issues or the difficulties, now I can say that after the two years it didn’t translate into anything significant, definitely wasn’t much change being experienced on my end in terms of collaboration and communication”.

Prominent members of Sinn Féin noted for their active use of social media have not commented publicly on Deputy Wynne’s departure from the party. Her exit from the party means Cllr Donna McGettigan (SF) is now Sinn Féin’s only elected representative in Clare.

A first-time TD, Violet-Anne claimed she was left “isolated” and subject to a campaign of “psychological warfare” by members of the party, most prominently at a local level within the Clare constituency. The Trinity College graduate said she first started raising concerns with the higher echelons of the party and appealing for more support following the General Election in February 2020

Speaking publicly for the first time since her decision, Deputy Wynne confirmed to Drivetime on RTÉ Radio One that she intended to remain as an Independent TD and her vocal stance on measures proposed by the Government meant it was unlikely she would be supporting them in any future votes in the Dáil.

Leaving the party was not a sudden decision, she outlined, “There was many instances where I felt isolated and maybe given misleading information and so I felt my position within the party was untenable, it wasn’t something I could stand over any longer myself, it came to a head for me and I didn’t come to this decision lightly, it’s something I’ve been thinking and contemplating for some time, I just felt it had reached a level that I couldn’t see going forward any longer”.

Difficulties at a local level existed prior to the 2020 General Election, the Kilrush woman recalled. “For me personally there was a lot of negative press for myself after getting elected and that’s why I refer to baggage in my statement, I didn’t follow the usual route like most who would be in Leinster House and I had personal situations that I was dealing with prior to the election, I knew there was an opportunity for the media to bring them back up again and that is exactly what happened”.

Deputy Wynne said she brought issues such as her rent arrears and partner’s use of medicinal cannabis for a neurological condition to the attention of the organisation in advance of contesting the 2019 local elections. “I was clear and honest, I outlined all of the particulars of our situation, I gave them every piece of information I suppose that I felt they needed at the time, this was well in advance of even the local elections which I also ran in, in 2019”.

Of the reaction when these details emerged in the media, she commented, “At a local level there wasn’t much of a reaction to myself, it was said to myself that they felt I had blindsided them and so in effect they outlined that I hadn’t relayed this information or had kept some information private but I hadn’t, that wasn’t the actual case so there was an element of shock and surprise expressed to myself and disappointment at the same time which I couldn’t understand because I had been so upfront and honest about our situation”.

Isolation was the main feeling experienced, the mother of six said of her time with Sinn Féin, she had been a member since 2012. Explaining her use of “gaslighting measures” and a campaign of “psychological warfare,” she explained, “when I was relaying my concerns I was being told they were going to look into the situation and do what they could but several weeks would pass by and I wasn’t seeing any of those actions being taken or any of the information they were relaying to me transpiring into any kind of resolution or any kind of positive situation or making much of a difference really to what I was seeing and what I was experiencing on the ground”.

“Very soon after the election we were all dealing with COVID, that would have had an impact as well, it felt that little bit more extreme for myself because of the negative press and the reaction at local level and in terms of the level of support I was receiving at that time as well, I definitely felt very alone and isolated in dealing with all of that”.

Her concerns for women contemplating representing Sinn Féin stems for her reaction to telling party colleagues of her sixth pregnancy, she and her partner John welcomed the arrival of their baby daughter Collins at the beginning of February. “That pregnancy was an unplanned pregnancy for myself, it came as a huge shock to myself and my family, we already had five children and had thought we were finished but there was other plans there, I was very anxious in relaying the information initially to people in the party because I was concerned what the reaction would be, I go back to now when I did mention it to a prominent female member at the time and I was called an effin eejit for getting pregnant in the first place, for me it didn’t help with the anxiety that I was already experiencing, it was quite shocking because I wasn’t expecting it, even though you might experience anxiety you don’t expect that kind of a reaction, I was looking for a bit of support and a bit of reassurance at that time and I just felt I didn’t receive it”.

Mooted supports for her maternity leave failed to materialise, she claimed. “There was an opportunity for a support worker to be brought in to my office and there was a conversation around what that would look like and what work would be able to be done in the time I could take like six months maternity leave, that was all discussed but what transpired wasn’t exactly as what was explained to myself so that was a huge disappointment as well to realise, it only became apparent as I went into the maternity leave fully once the baby was born, it was confusing and different to what was explained at the time”.

A spokesperson for the National Women’s Council of Ireland said of Deputy Wynne’s exit from Sinn Féin. “Without commenting on the specifics of the case, we know that political parties need to support women. It is critical that all parties have pro active polices and supports in place for retention of women TDs. We know that women face many barriers not only in getting elected, but also when they are elected, such as the lack of maternity leave, and the fact that our Oireachtas and indeed our political parties within it, do not have family friendly structures”.

Speaking on Saturday, Senator Lynn Boylan (SF) admitted she was “very sad” to see Violet-Anne leave the party. “It is very sad she has chosen to leave the party and I wish her very well in her future political career”.  She added,  “We were aware there was issues in the constituency and the party has said we were trying to address them, I’m not aware of the issues but I know Violet-Anne has said she had no issue in terms of the Leinster House team with the TDs and Senators, I worked very well with Violet-Anne, she is on the same corridor as me, I want her to know I wish her well and her new baby”.

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Subscribe for just €3 per month

If you’re here, you care about County Clare. So do we. Did you rely on us for Covid-19 updates, follow our election coverage, or visit The Clare Echo every week for breaking news and sport? The Clare Echo invests in local journalism and we want to safeguard its future in our county. By becoming a subscriber you are supporting what we do, will receive access to all our premium articles and a better experience, while helping us improve our offering to you. Subscribe to clareecho.ie and get the first six months for just €3 a month (less than 75c per week), and thereafter €8 per month. Cancel anytime, limited time offer. T&Cs Apply. www.clareecho.ie.

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