Belfast Telegraph

Fianna Fail link-up 'adds no value' to SDLP, says Hanna as signs of tension emerge

By Suzanne Breen

A prominent SDLP Assembly member has said a new partnership to be unveiled today between her party and Fianna Fail is not the right move and does not reflect her politics.

Claire Hanna MLA was speaking as SDLP party leader Colum Eastwood and Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin prepared to announce the new arrangement at a joint press conference in Belfast today.

Ms Hanna said last night: "It doesn't reflect my politics personally.

"It hasn't been explained how it will connect with the electorate or what resources or organisational changes it will bring that we couldn't do ourselves."

On her party's new link with Fianna Fail, the South Belfast MLA continued: "I don't think it adds any value to SDLP aims of reconciliation, Irish unity and good governance."

The SDLP leadership is presenting the new arrangement as a shared policy platform, not a merger.

It is understood that the party will field candidates in May's council election under its own banner.

Belfast SDLP councillor Brian Heading said: "I will look forward to reading the detail of any new partnership agreement between the SDLP and Fianna Fail, in particular the guarantees in the agreement to ensure that we in the SDLP retain our principles of social democracy and being an anti-sectarian party."

The SDLP and Fianna Fail have been engaged in lengthy talks about finding a way forward together politically.

Party sources said that while Mr Eastwood had briefed them on Tuesday night, they had not been shown documents about the partnership.

A special party conference is expected to be held on February 9 to vote on the proposed new arrangement.

SDLP West Tyrone MLA Daniel McCrossan warmly welcomed a close relationship between his party and Fianna Fail.

"Nationalism needs a response to the changing and significant challenges across these islands as a result of Brexit," he said.

"It has always been the SDLP vision to unite our people and unite our island (and) with Fianna Fail we can together articulate a peaceful and achievable path forward.

"It's about two parties taking a joint approach on key policy issues which affect people right across this island.

"It's about a new all-Ireland dimension which will work on a joint programme for government for the North and the South, feeding on the interests of citizens on both sides of the border."

Mr McCrossan said Sinn Fein's abstentionist policy from Westminster, combined with the lack of an Assembly, had left nationalists voiceless, but the new SDLP-Fianna Fail partnership aimed to fill that void.

"Our businesses, farmers and communities are deeply concerned about what Brexit will bring," he said.

"It's not good enough that people have been left voiceless. We know we have to do things differently now.

"This is the start of that journey. We are not a new political party but a new political movement."

Fianna Fail's parliamentary party "fully endorsed" the plan for a partnership with the SDLP at a private meeting on Tuesday night.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Fianna Fail's foreign affairs and trade spokesman, Niall Collins, said: "You are aware of the discussion we had at the parliamentary party last night.

"An announcement will be made tomorrow by our party leader, so I don't want to steal his thunder and indeed the thunder of Colum Eastwood at this point in time.

"The talks, as you know, have been going on for a period of time.

"We received a briefing on that last night, and the proposal on the table to form a partnership is fully endorsed by the parliamentary party."

In October, Mr Martin's party was caught in controversy in Omagh when senior party figures unveiled a Fianna Fail 'candidate' for next year's Northern Ireland local council election without the approval of the leadership.

Party colleagues accused Eamon O Cuiv and Mark Daly, who said they were acting as Sorcha McAnespy's campaign managers, of embarking on a "solo run".

Mr O Cuiv, who was frontbench spokesman for regional development, rural affairs and the Gaeltacht, was demoted by Mr Martin.

The move was announced a day after Senator Mr Daly was stripped of his duties as Fianna Fail deputy leader in the Seanad for his role in the unsanctioned event in Omagh.

Belfast Telegraph

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