Belfast Telegraph

SDLP group to discuss Fianna Fail merger after election loss

By Allan Preston

Grassroots SDLP members in Mid Ulster are to discuss merging with Fianna Fail in the Republic after the Northern Irish party lost all three of its seats in the General Election.

The SDLP now faces hard questions about its future and over how to win back voters after it was wiped out at Westminster.

Tomorrow night, the SDLP's Mid Ulster constituency council will hold a post-election debriefing in Maghera.

Among the items up for discussion is joining forces with Fianna Fail, the Republic's main opposition party.

The SDLP and Fianna Fail have had an informal association in the past, with the parties' members helping each other canvass at elections.

Martin Kearney, an SDLP councillor in Mid Ulster, said the Fianna Fail question had not been officially added to the meeting's agenda but would be discussed.

"These are normal discussions which happen after every election," he said.

"This is something every party will be doing.

"We've a great variety of old members and the young SDLP branch in Maghera is very active.

"We want to listen to them, there's been such a lot of change."

Asked if he personally supported a merger with Fianna Fail, he said: "All options are on the table.

"There have been many times this has been discussed before, this is not something new."

Despite the SDLP's performance in the General Election last week, Mr Kearney said the mood among colleagues was one of reflection rather than despair.

"It's easy to turn your head and take the hump over these things," he said.

"But there will soon be council elections and the possibility of another Assembly election so it's a good time to re-evaluate. It's a meeting we're all looking forward to."

South Belfast SDLP MLA Claire Hanna has already said there is no need to join with Fianna Fail.

"I don't see what that solves, it doesn't appeal to me," she said on the BBC Stephen Nolan show last Friday, hours after the election results were announced.

Fianna Fail have long talked about expanding into Northern Ireland, although the plans were put on ice after a poor election in 2011.

In September, the party leader Micheal Martin said he saw the 2019 council elections as a realistic target.

He added that his party was already registered in Northern Ireland.

"I think work needs to be done before I make any declarations in that regard. We're looking to contest the 2019 local elections. That remains a target," he said at the time.

Mr Martin also disclosed Fianna Fail was planning to spend at least a year preparing a document of what a united Ireland might look like.

Among the issues to be addressed would be keeping two parliaments in Ireland and merging the health and education systems.

"The SDLP say they believe in that, so do Sinn Fein. So it's not the only idea that Dublin rules Ireland," he said.

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