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'Proud' and 'Disgusted': Fianna Fáil and SDLP 'partnership' creates mixed feelings within the party

Leaders of Fianna Fáil and the SDLP failed to rule out a future merger of the parties.

Updated Jan 24th 2019, 1:00 PM

pearse 55 SDLP leader Colum Eastwood shakes hand with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin in Belfast today. Source: Fianna Fail

IN BELFAST TODAY, the leaders of Fianna Fáil and the SDLP held a joint press conference to announce their partnership.

SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood said this morning that there will be a programme of public engagement and common policy proposals put forward on economic development, Irish unity, Brexit, education, health, and housing. 

Fianna Fáil members of the Oireachtas and SDLP elected representatives will begin their work within weeks. 

“We believe that it is the duty of all who seek to represent the people to try and find a new way forward & not to accept that this destructive cycle will continue. It was against this background that a discussion was begun a year ago with the SDLP about how we could cooperate,” said Micheál Martin. 

Talks about a possible merger between the two parties have been ongoing for a number of months, however, it appears that rather than a full-on merger, the parties have merely agreed to a “policy partnership”. 

Fianna Fáil will not be contesting elections in Northern Ireland. 

“This is the approach Fianna Fáil has taken to positively influence Northern Ireland politics,” said one party source when asked why it has rolled back from launching its own party candidates in the upcoming local elections. 

“I am proud of the fact that our parties have agreed to share this work and I look forward to its impact in the months and years ahead,” Martin said this morning. 

While the parliamentary party is understood to have “fully endorsed” the move at this week’s meeting, with some members stating they are very “proud” of today’s announcement, there are a number within the party who are resoundingly against Fianna Fáil joining forces with the SDLP. 

As previously reported by TheJournal.ie, some members within the party are happy to state that while it is a leader’s prerogative to lead, it is not their prerogative to “drag” the party down a road of merging with another party – a party which some Fianna Fáilers dubbed a “damaged brand”. 

It is understood that while running candidates in the North was discussed at an Ard Fheis, a partnership with the SDLP was not. This is an issue of major concern to some within the Fianna Fáil. 

Today, Martin indicated that Fianna Fáil would indeed support the SDLP in Westminster elections and would be dedicating its resources to do so.

‘Disappointed’ 

A number of TDs are now calling for the matter to be discussed at the party’s Ard Fheis at the end of February, with one TD stating that it could “all kick off then” due to the expected cost the party might face for linking up with the SDLP.  

Another said the move is “a clear forerunner to full merger, no doubt about it”, adding that he was disappointed that the parliamentary party supported the partnership.

When asked about a future merger at the press conference in Belfast today, Martin said he did not have a “crystal ball”, with both leaders refusing to rule it out. 

One TD said he was “disgusted” with the announcement, stating that it is another case of party decisions being made from “the top down”. They said such a move was like the Tory party seeking to run candidates and forming a partnership with a “failed entity like Renua”. 

“Ideologically, it is all wrong for us. No one had input,” they said. One said it was a “Micheál Martin exclusive production”.

Another critic said “it looks like it has all the political importance of a town twinning project. It looks like Ó Cuív and Daly were right all along”. 

Rogue actions

Utter confusion reigned last November when Sorcha McAnespy, a member of Fianna Fáil’s national executive and former Sinn Féin councillor, was announced as an ‘official’ candidate in the local elections in Northern Ireland. 

Veteran Fianna Fáil TD Éamon Ó Cuív, as well as Kerry-based Senator Mark Daly went rogue with the move, with Ó Cuív telling this website that if it forced the issue of the party running candidates in the North, he was happy he did it.

Fianna Fáil headquarters were not happy with it, however. Micheál Martin took decisive action and sacked the two politicians from their party roles. 

Today, Martin said he would hold discussions with McAnespy about a way forward. 

Speaking to TheJournal.ie about the announcement of the new partnership with the SDLP, Ó Cuív said he was “very disappointed” with the decision and with Fianna Fáil. 

While he was not present at the parliamentary party meeting on Tuesday evening, he said he understood no one opposed the move. He added that had he been at the meeting, he would have voiced his concerns. 

He said such a partnership will now distance the party from being an all-Ireland party, adding that there is a “massive vacuum” in Northern Irish politics due to the Stormont stalemate. 

“There is a big opportunity and a broad consensus for a republican party,” he said, adding that Fianna Fáil could fill that void.

“Obviously I must be in the minority,” he added

This is not the first time Ó Cuív has criticised his party’s position on the matter. In an interview with TheJournal.ie in December, he said:

I believe there are many many people in Northern Ireland that would vote for such a party — I think it should be Fianna Fáil.

Speaking about a possible deal with the SDLP, Ó Cuív said there are no provisions in the rules of Fianna Fáil for that, stating that it would require an Ard Fhéis.

He questioned whether SDLP candidates are a right fit for the party, stating that in his opinion, Fianna Fáil is a “very broad” party which is not confined to any class or area.

“I would see in more recent times the profile of SDLP doesn’t fit that, and while there are magnificent people in the SDLP, I believe our engagement with the North should be on a purely Fianna Fáil basis, welcoming any one who wants to join us,” he said. 

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