SDLP veteran voices concern about meeting procedure as members back Fianna Fáil link
THE SDLP leadership plans to reach out to members opposed to formal links with Fianna Fáil after its partnership plan was endorsed at a special meeting on Saturday.
Delegates voted by 121 votes to 53 to support leader Colum Eastwood's proposal for a policy partnership with the Republic's opposition party.
The initiative, which its leadership insist is not a precursor to a merger, will see the two parties develop a formal cross-border "policy partnership".
However, following the meeting, concerns have been voiced about whether it adhered to agreed procedures, while there have also been warnings of resignations in the coming days.
The Irish News understands six former party chairs, including Brid Rodgers, Alban Maginness and Denis Haughey, proposed a motion at the end of the meeting to have the leadership's proposal "referred back" - or rewritten.
According to Mr Haughey, the motion was not accepted by South Down MLA Colin McGrath, who was chairing the meeting.
Speaking yesterday, the former Stormont junior minister said: "I am extremely disappointed that the party chair is not familiar with universally accepted rules of procedure."
The former Mid Ulster MLA declined to comment on the implications of Saturday's vote.
An SDLP spokeswoman insisted proper procedure was followed.
"Delegates had the chance to vote on two motions yesterday - they overwhelmingly supported the leadership's proposal," she said.
"The party has made a democratic decision, it's time to implement it."
But in the wake of Saturday's meeting, one senior SDLP veteran, who wished to remain anonymous, said members will "walk away from the party" due to their dissatisfaction.
"There is deep unease about this and many members regard it as unacceptable," the veteran said.
South Belfast MLA Claire Hanna, a long-standing opponent of exclusive links with Fianna Fáil, said afterwards: "I came believing an exclusive arrangement was not a good idea, I have not changed my mind." She was unavailable for comment yesterday.
A statement from the SDLP leadership said the party had a history of making "tough decisions" and that members had "shown a willingness to put the interests of people first".
"This partnership will be built on a genuine desire to deliver for people across Ireland, driven by an ambition to see power returned to local politicians and tasked with changing the lives of people who have for too long been let down by our politics here."
It acknowledged that some members were unhappy with the outcome and that the leadership was "sensitive to that fact".
"We will be reaching out to all strands within our party in the coming weeks and months to ensure we move forward together," the statement said.
A spokesman for Irish Labour said the party was disappointed by the result and that they believe the two parties would eventually merge.
"The consequences of the partnership decision will now be carefully considered by the Labour Party in the coming weeks, and in consultation with our colleagues in the Party of European Socialists," he said.
On Sunday night it emerged that the chairs of the SDLP Youth, Women and LGBT+ branches had resigned from their positions, citing concerns about the procedures for Saturday’s meeting.