Northern Ireland

Councillor Mickey Coogan quits Sinn Fein

The chairman of Down Council, Mickey Coogan, has dramatically quit Sinn Fein to become an independent councillor.

Image caption Mickey Coogan quit Sinn Fein because of "irreconcilable differences"

He will remain as council chairman as he is legally entitled to do. Sources say this has infuriated Sinn Fein.

In a statement, Sinn Fein's South Down chairperson, Ryan Morgan, said he was sad and disappointed that the Ballynahinch man had resigned.

Cllr Coogan told the BBC that he quit because of "irreconcilable differences" with individual members of Sinn Fein.

The 45-year-old said that he felt undermined by some people when it came to projects he was working on in the Ballynahinch area.

Anti-social behaviour

"I have been working on projects - Sinn Fein encouraged my projects - but individuals tried to undermine them," he said.

Mr Coogan has been working on various projects including the tackling of anti-social behaviour and fear of crime.

He has been involved in republican politics since he was a teenager and helped to form the first Sinn Fein branch in Ballynahinch in 1999.

He said Sinn Fein councillor Sean McPeake, council co-ordinator, and Chris Hazzard, MLA for South Down, met him on Monday in a bid to dissuade him.

He added he had no problem with any of his council colleagues and had "great respect" for Mr Hazzard, but he had made up his mind.

Mr Coogan said he had some issues in the past but had persevered. "This could have happened a few years ago," he said.

He also admitted being unhappy with the strategy employed by Sinn Fein in 2011 when Naomi Bailie was brought onto the ticket for the assembly election - although he added he had no personal issue with her.

'Unforgiving'

Mr Coogan said he intends to remain as an independent for the duration of his council term and then decide his future.

Asked if he would rejoin Sinn Fein, he said: "I don't think so - politics is unforgiving."

Mr Morgan said: "Mickey Coogan has served Sinn Fein since 2005 on council, so I am disappointed he has decided to resign from the party.

"Despite offers from myself and other senior party colleagues to meet with Mr Coogan to discuss any difficulties, he has yet to give a substantial reason why he decided to resign."