SDLP could partner more than one party, says John Dallat
An SDLP MLA has said that potential future "parallel partnerships" with other parties would not be ruled out because of closer ties with Fianna Fail.
John Dallat admitted he "had to be persuaded" in relation to the partnership deal with the southern party, due to be discussed at an SDLP special conference today.
In addition to debating the motion for a new partnership with Fianna Fail, the Newry conference will discuss proposals to build closer relations with Fine Gael and the Irish Labour Party.
If accepted as an amendment to the original motion, the second proposal from SDLP branches in Fermanagh, Upper Bann, and Balmoral would effectively prevent the party leadership developing its partnership with Fianna Fail into a merger.
The Belfast Telegraph understands that it will be debated as a separate motion.
Mr Dallat said that while the only partnership option currently on the table is the deal with Fianna Fail, that would not block partnership relationships with other parties on specific issues going forward.
"We've been building relationships with political parties on the side since our inception," he said.
"I don't see how that is ever going to end just because of a partnership with Fianna Fail on particular aspects of politics.
"The partnership is with Fianna Fail at the minute because that's the one available - it doesn't rule out sometime in the future that there might be parallel partnerships with other political parties.
"But at the minute the only partnership that is on offer is the one with Fianna Fail.
"That will take an enormous amount of endeavour by both parties to achieve it. And it's very specific on what it intends to do.
"If the party comes up with partnerships with other political parties I'll listen to them in the same way I've done with this one and I'll be persuaded, and on this one I am persuaded.
"It's certainly innovative and it's new, but partnerships in themselves are not new. The biggest companies in the world are working in partnerships all the time, so we're applying it to politics."
Mr Dallat said he expects the Fianna Fail partnership proposal to receive the backing of party members today, and that it would help the SDLP become "central to the political world again".
"Like everything in politics, I had to be persuaded, and I am," he said of the political rapprochement.
"I lived in the Republic for a number of years and I never voted Fianna Fail, but the partnership tells me that this is something that's desirable.
"And I have to be flexible enough, if I want to put the SDLP first rather than John Dallat. I need to be flexible enough to bend with that.
"The dynamics of politics is changing so fast.
"I don't think it's a question of survival, it's a question of progress.
"It's a question of becoming central to the political world again, and gaining a stage on the national and international platform, and that's what it will deliver."
Mr Dallat added: "I think every political party has had to change, to adjust to what's relevant today.
"At the moment there is no suggestion whatsoever that the SDLP is losing its identity."
Mr Dallat said he believes that South Belfast MLA Claire Hanna, who has stated she is not convinced of the benefits of the Fianna Fail partnership as it would not reflect her politics, has "an important part to play in the party".
"It's entirely Claire's decision whether she leaves or not," he said.
"Personally, I believe that she has an important part to play in the party. Once you join a political party you've consented to constraint.
"Claire is a mature person, I wouldn't start to advise her what she should do.
"But certainly, if this motion is to fail, then where does that leave (party leader) Colm Eastwood and (deputy leader) Nichola Mallon? I don't know what they would do."