SDLP and Fianna Fail 'historic partnership' a bid to break deadlock in Northern Ireland politics
The SDLP and Fianna Fail have announced an "historic partnership" in a bid to to break the "cycle of vacuum and division" in Northern Ireland politics.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, speaking Artola House in Belfast on Thursday, said the people of Northern Ireland had been failed by politicians since Stormont collapsed more than two years ago.
He said: "I hope and believe it [the partnership] marks an important contribution in finally breaking the cycle of vacuum and division which has failed our people over the last two years."
The two parties had been in talks for some time and a possibility of a full merger was once on the cards.
Mr Eastwood said his discussions with Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin began as a direct result of the Brexit referendum result and the collapse of Stormont.
"Our engagement since then has always been focused on how we collectively respond to the defining change which the politics of these islands are currently experiencing," he said.
"As political leaders, we have thought deeply as to how best to respond and act right now- and how best we respond and act for the generations to come."
The SDLP leader referenced the recent car bomb in Londonderry, saying it "underlined the fragility with which we are now living".
"As we should all know by now, political vacuums never end well in Northern Ireland," he said.
"It is a disgrace that our people have been asked to live with it for this long."
"Faced with this deepening crisis, our challenge is to think deeper and to look longer. We understand that it will not be enough to just firefight the consequences of Brexit- to do so it too narrow a response to what is too big a moment in our history."
Mr Eastwood said the two parties have agreed to work in partnership on an "unprecedented programme" of public engagement in Northern Ireland.
The Foyle MLA said the parties will cooperate on building better public services, "uniting Ireland's people" and finding a way to make politics work in Northern Ireland.
He said the SDLP membership with have the "final say" on the partnership, but said he was confident the partnership was right for his party and the people it serves.
Fianna Fail leader Michael Martin said he was proud the two parties had agreed to work together and they "have shared much and have achieved much over the years".
"So it was obvious that we should discuss ways that we might work together at this time of crisis," he added.
"The focus of our discussions has, at all stages been on how to develop a new agenda for Northern Ireland and for Ireland as a whole. There is a desperate need to shift the focus away from an obsession with who holds power and onto the much more important issue of what is done with that power.
The Fianna Fail leader added: "There is also overwhelming admiration for the SDLP for its bravery, vision and leadership at critical moments – for the fact that in the face of dramatic odds it has remained a powerful voice for a nationalist and republican vision of our future.
"It is a non-sectarian party which has proven time and again that it puts people before politics.
"Its heroes are our heroes.
"That is why we are very happy to agree the partnership which is being announced today."
Belfast Telegraph Digital