'Out of touch' | 

Fine Gael councillor quits after claiming bullying and intimidation complaints ignored

West Cork councillor Karen Coakley raised her concerns with Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and senior party figures two years ago

Karen Coakley will continue as an Independent.

Hugh O'Connell

A Fine Gael councillor who resigned from the party alleging bullying, character assassination, intimidation and slander raised her concerns with Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and senior party figures two years ago, the Sunday World can reveal.

West Cork councillor Karen Coakley dramatically announced her resignation to some 400 Fine Gael members at a Cork South-West constituency AGM in Dunmanway on Monday night, which was chaired by Higher Education Minister Simon Harris.

“I believe that they are not listening to people. The party is out of touch with the electorate and not interested in change,” Ms Coakley said. “I have decided I no longer want my good name associated with a party that tolerates bullying and doesn’t listen to voters.

“If I were working in an industry and such behaviour went on including bullying, character assassination and slander, the culprits would be before the courts and there would be huge repercussions.”

She is the second Fine Gael councillor in the area to resign in the last six months after Katie Murphy stepped down from Cork County Council last November. Ms Coakley said she will continue on the council as an Independent.

Mr Harris told the meeting he would report the issues Ms Coakley raised in her speech with party headquarters.

Ms Coakley claimed she was subjected to skulduggery in the run up to the last general election after Fine Gael members in the constituency organised a petition calling on headquarters to add then serving garda, Noel O’Donovan, to the ticket alongside Ms Coakley and Senator Tim Lombard.

Mr O’Donovan was backed by supporters of outgoing TD Jim Daly, but was not added to the ticket. Ms Coakley claims party members were intimidated to ensure they did not canvass for her during the election.

Neither she nor Mr Lombard were elected meaning Fine Gael has no Dáil seat in Cork South West, a traditional party heartland.

Emails seen by this newspaper show Ms Coakley raised her concerns with Fine Gael general secretary Tom Curran on May 24, 2020 – three months after the election – and Mr Varadkar and Fine Gael director of elections Paschal Donohoe on July 6, 2020.

“The treatment that I was subjected to as a candidate in GE20 has never been addressed,” she wrote. “I find this most disrespectful and inexcusable.”

Ms Coakley said yesterday Mr Varadkar did contact her after the election but did not address the concerns she raised in her email.

Mr Lombard last night offered to help Fine Gael locally and at HQ level to address Ms Coakley’s grievances. “The allegations Karen made need to be investigated. There is no place for this alleged behaviour in Fine Gael,” he said.

A spokesman for Mr Varadkar said last night: “When contacted, the Tánaiste’s office brought the communication from Cllr Coakley to the attention of the secretary general and there was further engagement with the new secretary general.

“We have fair procedure. In order to investigate allegations of bullying, we need a complaint to be made. Even at this late stage we would continue to encourage Cllr Coakley to make one.”

A Fine Gael spokesman said: “Fine Gael deals with any complaint of bullying very seriously. Any member of the party can utilise the disciplinary system to make a complaint.” He said there was considerable engagement with Cllr Coakley since the general election.

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