Northern Ireland news

Fine Gael tried to poach Claire Hanna as European candidate

Claire Hanna was considered a prospective European candidate by Fine Gael. Picture by Hugh Russell

FINE Gael sought to poach SDLP MLA Claire Hanna as a European election candidate but was given short shrift by the South Belfast representative, The Irish News understands.

Senior members of Leo Varadkar's party were involved in efforts to woo Ms Hanna, who resigned as SDLP Brexit spokeswoman last month after her party formalised links with Fianna Fáil.

On Monday, Fine Gael unveiled former SDLP leader Mark Durkan as one of its two candidates to contest the Dublin constituency in May's European Parliament elections.

Ms Hanna was unavailable for comment yesterday but it is understood the Galway-born MLA was sounded out about the possibility of standing as a Fine Gael candidate in the Midlands-North West constituency.

Ms Hanna was born in Connemara when her Gaeilgeoir father Eamon worked there in the early 1980s. The family moved to Belfast in 1984 when he was appointed SDLP general secretary.

The South Belfast MLA is on the left of the SDLP and has been an ardent opponent of its partnership with Fianna Fáil, which party members ratified last month.

Claire Hanna resigned as SDLP Brexit spokeswoman over her party's formalised ties with Fianna Fáil. Picture by Mal McCann

It is understood Fine Gael made its pitch to Ms Hanna last year when talks between her party and Fianna Fáil were taking place.

The SDLP's former Brexit spokesman is believed to have given the offer little consideration and quickly rejected it.

Read More: Mark Durkan's niece suggested as possible replacement at Foyle election

Two sources have confirmed that the exploratory discussions took place and that Fine Gael, up to ministerial level, was aware of them.

Fine Gael declined to comment.

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