Northern Ireland news

SDLP denies vote on Fianna Fáil partnership is 'unconstitutional'

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and SDLP leader Colum Eastwood MLA at a joint press conference in Belfast last week. Picture by Mal McCann
Brendan Hughes

THE SDLP has denied that a planned vote on the proposed Fianna Fáil partnership goes against the party's constitution.

A special conference is scheduled for February 9 in Newry for the party membership to decide on the plans, which were formally announced last week.

But the SDLP's constitution says a preliminary agenda for a conference should be sent to party branches "not less than six weeks before the conference".

The proposed partnership may also be considered by some members as requiring a change to the constitution, because it says the SDLP aims to "cooperate with other labour parties and social democratic parties through the Party of European Socialists [PES] and the Socialist International".

Fianna Fáil is aligned to the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe in the European Parliament.

A change to the constitution is decided at a special general meeting (SGM) rather than a special conference.

An SGM agenda also requires six weeks' notice if a change to the constitution is being considered, and any proposed change needs a two-thirds majority in favour to pass.

Veteran SDLP politician Bríd Rodgers, who has voiced opposition to the planned Fianna Fáil partnership, called for the constitution to be clarified.

"I think that before a vote is taken I believe that the implications for the constitution need to be clarified," the former SDLP deputy leader said.

"I am very concerned about whether all of this is in line with the party's constitution."

An SDLP spokeswoman said the six-week clause "only pertains to conference, not special conference".

"It has been decided by the governing body of the party and the parliamentary group that special conference will take place as and when originally planned," she said.

"SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has been consistently clear that the SDLP will continue to be a member of PES."

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