Belfast Telegraph

SDLP to debate Fine Gael and Labour link-up as members bid to halt Fianna Fail move

By Suzanne Breen

An SDLP special conference tomorrow to debate a motion for a new partnership with Fianna Fail will also 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.

But the Belfast Telegraph understands that it will instead be debated as a separate motion at the Newry conference.

Party insiders predict the Fianna Fail motion will be approved despite SDLP Youth, women's and LGBT groups coming out strongly against it.

Support for the partnership with Fianna Fail is particularly strong in rural and border areas with the greatest opposition in Belfast.

The party's high-profile South Belfast MLA Claire Hanna's future in the SDLP would be uncertain if it linked up with Fianna Fail. Ms Hanna has said she is not convinced of the benefits of such a move which would not reflect her politics.

She is the only one of the SDLP's MLAs who have not endorsed the proposal. A letter from the other 11 supporting the move has been sent to party members in advance of tomorrow's conference. It says: "We write collectively as your public representatives to inform you of our support for the proposal of a policy partnership between the SDLP and Fianna Fail.

"People right across our constituencies, not least those most disadvantaged and marginalised, are being let down and left behind. The unprecedented challenges from Brexit and the continued stalemate at Stormont means that business as usual is no longer an option.

"To continue to do what we have always done at such a crucial juncture in our politics and history is to fail to fulfil the duty we hold dear, to serve people and present solutions that will transform their lives."

The letter says the SDLP has a "proud legacy" but it's job now is to "deliver fully on our vision of a reconciled people living in a united, just and prosperous new Ireland".

It claims the partnership with Fianna Fail will offer the party "for the first time an all-island platform to meet the all-island challenges facing all our people".

Meanwhile, former SDLP Stormont minister Carmel Hanna, Claire Hanna's mother, has voiced her opposition to the proposed Fianna Fail partnership. She has been a party member since 1972. Writing in yesterday's Irish News, she stated: "In its nearly 49 years SDLP has built up significant international respect and unique political capital in a deeply polarised society, where extremism pays electoral dividends. We should accentuate the positive and address our deficiencies. We shouldn't put our eggs in any one basket, but work with all Irish democrats, including Fianna Fail."

Ms Hanna spoke of the party's financial difficulties in the early years. "Then, as now, the SDLP was broke. We drew multi-party support from Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Irish Labour and those with no party affiliation," she said. "I can testify that those in the group with Fine Gael connections raised more money than anyone else."

The SDLP veteran acknowledged the party's declining vote but added: "The SDLP must get out more on the doorsteps and re-learn to compete. The SDLP's salvation lies within itself."

Belfast Telegraph

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