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Fiona McLoughlin Healy persists, where Catherine Noone left off in drawing specific attention to sexist bullying – in Kildare County Council and the Kildare and Wicklow Educational Training Board

By Frank Connolly

It must be have been less than reassuring for Fine Gael Senator, Catherine Noone, to know that her complaints of bullying by a male party colleague are were being dealt with by the chairman of the parliamentary party, Martin Heydon. He is among the senior members of Fine Gael who have all but ignored complaints of harassment by another female member and former general-election candidate over the past two years. Noone recently announced she would not pursue a formal complaint.

As reported in Village over recent months, Fiona Mc Loughlin Healy, has spent many months trying to get the party to rein in some of those members who have subjected her to misogynistic treatment, harassment and isolation tactics as she performed her role as an elected member of Kildare County Council and as an unsuccessful candidate for Fine Gael in the 2016 general election.

Among those who may have felt threatened by the ambitious, media-friendly, young business woman, who was head hunted to stand for the party in Kildare South, was none other than Martin Heydon who is the sitting TD and who is well got with former leader Alan Dukes and his wife, Fionnuala.

Party members who did not want her to succeed managed to ensure that McLoughlin Healy was sidelined when it came to meeting and being photographed with senior party figures before and during the election campaign.  These included Simon Coveney, Michael Noonan and Frances Fitzgerald on their high profile visits to the Kildare constituency. Fitzgerald did assist McLoughlin Healy in launching her new constituency office but that was just weeks before the February 2016 election and too late to make much impact.

In reality, she did not have the vital support of her local party organisation, with one officer claiming that her imposition on the ticket as a woman candidate was something “North Korea would be proud of”. From the outset, hostile FG members ensured that Heydon’s vote transfers would go to their political opponents in Fianna Fáil or Labour before they went to McLoughlin Healy and that is what transpired on election day.

More serious for McLoughlin Healy, though, was the manner in which her complaints of harassment and mistreatment by a senior party figure in the County and former mayor, Brendan Weld, were handled by the Fine Gael disciplinary committee and national executive. McLoughlin Healy has annoyed some of her party colleagues by her persistent queries concerning finance, governance and procurement issues involving KCC and the Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board (KWETB), of which Weld is a former chairman. He resigned in late 2017 as a major controversy erupted following an investigation by the Comptroller and Auditor General into procurement issues at the KWETB.

After she made a complaint to the party hierarchy in 2015 that Weld had convened a meeting of the leaders of all political groups on the Council where he proposed that they should block motions put forward by McLoughlin Healy, she claims that she was roundly ignored. Worse still, when the whip was removed from her at the instigation of some of her party colleagues on KCC in July 2016, the party failed  properly to investigate her complaints.

Instead, she was hauled before the Fine Gael disciplinary committee in November 2016 and had her suspension extended by six months. Among those who presided over this particular indignity was national executive member, Barry Walsh, who has since resigned from his position in the wake of complaints by Dublin Bay South TD, Kate O’Connell, over his misogynistic tweets about her and other female politicians.

In July and November last year, McLoughlin Healy wrote to Leo Varadkar to complain about how she had been treated and listed the various complaints she had made and how she had been the person punished rather than her alleged abusers within the party.   During the same month, she met justice minister, Charlie Flanagan, at a conference appropriately entitled “Integrity at Work” where the senior party figure urged those present to speak out about wrongdoing in the workplace and called for support for whistleblowers.

When McLoughlin Healy blew the whistle to Flanagan about the mistreatment of her by party members in Kildare and the failure of the national executive to deal with her complaints he promised to look into the matter. She has heard nothing from either of them since.

Party general secretary, Tom Curran, did examine some of the issues she raised but, after a promising start, the inquiry sank into the sand. Curran, however, did inform her, some nine months after she first raised her concerns, that the national executive had decided to deal with her complaints against Weld and another Kildare Councillor, Darren Scully, by appointing a group of Councillors from outside the County to devise protocols which could inform party members, including some of her adversaries who have been in politics for decades, as to proper procedures in holding meetings.

“Such a protocol would deal with the calling of group meetings, conduct of such meetings, minuting of decisions and communications among members. The said group of Councillors would also devise a protocol covering arrangements with other political groupings including the minuting of arrangements entered into”, Curran wrote.

Curran even invited McLoughlin Healy to join the group of party reformers. However, some six months later she has still to hear how the radical proposal to deal with sexist behaviour in the party has progressed. Bullying goes on in Fine Gael in the shiny and modern era of Varadkar.