SDLP and Fianna Fáil expected to announce 'phased integration'
THE SDLP and Fianna Fáil are expected to finally announce a "phased process" of integration of the two political parties, it has been reported.
It is understood it will result in "one all-island party which will be called Fianna Fáil" with details of the merger due to be revealed this month.
The Irish Times reported that "it will be a process, and it will be very significant - it will be a new departure".
It has been reported that the Fianna Fáil and SDLP leaders, Micheál Martin and Colum Eastwood, have been involved in talks accompanied by several senior figures from the two parties.
The newspaper said that negotiations are still under way and that a "significant" announcement is expected January or February. It had been thought an announcement would have been made before Christmas, but is believed to have been pushed back due to ongoing Brexit issues.
Sources have suggested that the merger would happen on a phased basis first, with agreed policies, then plans will be developed to contest future elections before eventually becoming an "one all-island party which will be called Fianna Fáil".
A Fianna Fáil source said that the feeling within both parties was that it was the right time for a merger.
"If you are going to do this you need to do it now, or you need to stop doing it because this just can't go on," the source told the Irish Times.
However, it is expected that the loss of the SDLP name will cause annoyance within the party. However, it is believed that negotiations have involved devising an alliance that "maintained the legacy of the SDLP".
It was also reported that the two parties have not yet decided how they will approach the local elections in Northern Ireland in May, which could possibly be the first electoral test that the parties will face.
It remains unclear if the parties will opt to run on a joint platform yet or if the SDLP candidates will stand "with the endorsement of Fianna Fáil".
It is not the first time there has been speculation that the two parties could merge, but it has previously been long fingered.
Former leader Margaret Ritchie told a Labour Party conference in the Republic in 2010 that there would be no merger with Fianna Fáil "on my watch", while some Fianna Fáil members in Northern Ireland have voiced opposition to any new alliance with the SDLP.
In October Fianna Fáil Galway West TD Eamon Ó Cuív and Senator Mark Daly were involved in an attempt to launch independent councillor Sorcha McAnespy as the party's first ever candidate to stand in a local election in the north's May's local election.
But just days later they were sacked from senior positions in the party for their role in the 'rogue' launch.
It later emerged Ms McAnespy did not have the support of the party leadership.