SDLP South Down MP Eddie McGrady has said he does not view Fianna Fail as a threat.
His comments came last night after the Irish party confirmed they would launch themselves officially in Northern Ireland at an event in the heart of Mr McGrady’s constituency this weekend.
Fianna Fail have enjoyed informal links with the SDLP in the past, with its members both north and south of the border canvassing for key figures including leader Mark Durkan.
In 2007, the SDLP debated a formal merger with Fianna Fail while as recently as March this year the SDLP was expected to enter talks with Fianna Fail as well as Irish Labour and Fine Gael about the establishment of a New Ireland Coalition.
Mr McGrady confirmed members of Fianna Fail have canvassed for him in the past during elections as they had for his party leader Mark Durkan in his Foyle constituency.
“Yes, members of Fianna Fail have canvassed for me during elections in the past, as have members of Fine Gael and Irish Labour. That has been the way for decades but it is an informal arrangement, usually a personal decision,” he said. “The SDLP have a very cordial relationship with the Irish government and Fianna Fail.
“However, I do not believe they would take votes off us because we are separate parties and have different policies. They have said they do not plan to contest elections in the north in the short term. As for the long term, a few years is a very long time in politics.
“I am not unduly excited about it, I do not view Fianna Fail as a threat either in the short term or the long term.”
A Fianna Fail spokeswoman said they would be holding a meeting on Saturday in the Denvir Hotel in Downpatrick to launch its new Down Forum with Irish government ministers Dermot Ahern and Eamonn O Cuiv attending.
“We have some cumanns at Queen’s University and also around border areas such as Crossmaglen, but this is a more serious move,” she said.
However, she ruled out the party running in the next Westminster election which is expected to be called in 2010 and the Assembly and local government elections expected to take place in 2011.
The Downpatrick event, taking place within Mr McGrady’s constituency, will the be first in a series. Earlier this year at its Ard Fheis, Fianna Fail members voted unanimously to adopt a motion to formally establish branches in every county in Northern Ireland.
Sinn Fein, currently the only party organised on an all-Ireland basis, said it welcomed the move.
In a dramatic move last year, Ulster Unionist former chairman of Down District Council, Harvey Bicker, defected to Fianna Fail.