Belfast Telegraph

Hopes of new Labour Party closer after Irish vote for 'hybrid' body

By Chris Kilpatrick

Plans for a Northern Irish Labour Party have moved a step closer - and in a unique move, local members would be aligned to both the Irish and British parties.

A motion has been passed at the Irish Labour Party conference to investigate the possibility of setting up the new 'hybrid' body.

It was approved over the weekend by delegates gathered in Killarney, Co Kerry.

The Labour Party currently has around 350 members in Northern Ireland, although it does not stand in elections here.

Labour has argued it could not be an honest broker in Northern Ireland if it had an electoral interest here.

It would also be harming its socialist sister party, the SDLP, whose MPs often vote with the British party in Westminster.

For many years, local activists have fought hard against the Labour leadership in London for recognition and the chance to stand for election.

The British Labour Party only allowed membership or organisation in Northern Ireland in 2004.

Boyd Black, secretary of the Labour Party in Northern Ireland, told the Belfast Telegraph the new British/Irish plans had widespread support from members.

If Ed Miliband's party agrees to the plan, members here would belong to both the British Labour Party and its Irish counterpart.

"The sentiment reflects the idea the two Labour parties want to work more closely together in bridging the sectarian divide in Northern Ireland," Mr Black continued.

"We were very warmly welcomed at the Irish Labour Party conference and the relationship between the two parties is warmer than it has been for decades.

"It remains to be seen how this would evolve over time, but it's a start."

He added: "This wouldn't be the same as the old Northern Ireland Labour Party. It was an independent party.

"This would be a party with members from the Irish Labour Party and UK Labour Party.

"It would be a hybrid. We could run candidates from both traditions."

In 2012, only 40% of the respondents to a Belfast Telegraph/LucidTalk poll said that they would like elections limited to Northern Ireland parties.

A previous Northern Ireland Labour Party operated in Northern Ireland from 1924 until 1987.

The motion backed at the Irish Labour conference called on the party to set up a commission to examine the possibility of a Northern Irish Labour Party in which members would also automatically belong to both British and Irish parties.

That would be similar to the National Union of Students/Union of Students in Ireland (NUS/USI) model.

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