Northern Ireland news

SDLP's Claire Hanna hits out at party's handling of Fianna Fáil merger talks

SDLP South Belfast MLA Claire Hanna has criticised her party's suggested merger with Fianna Fáil. Picture by Cliff Donaldson

A LEADING SDLP assembly member has complained that party members are being drip-fed details of a planned merger with Fianna Fáil "via the media".

South Belfast MLA Claire Hanna, the SDLP's Brexit spokeswoman, hit out at how the plans have been handled and said there had been "no serious attempt" to engage members in any changes.

She claimed the party may just ask members to 'take or leave' the planned merger ahead of the local government elections in May.

"Many members are opposed to the concept of this merger, and many more are frustrated by just hearing snatches of an 18-month process via the media," she said.

"No-one is disputing a major shift in political dynamics on the island but the task as John Hume defined it remains the same – for those of us who want Irish unity to persuade those who don't.

"With due respect to those pursuing this takeover, who I understand are under real pressure and working extremely hard, there has been no serious attempt to engage the members in discussion on our future or explain how this achieves any of our aims.

"It appears that it will just be pitched as a 'take it or leave it' in the weeks before an election."

The Irish Times has reported that details of the merger will be released within weeks and the merged party will operate under the Fianna Fáil name.

It remains unclear whether SDLP local government candidates will stand under a new party banner in May or will contest elections with the endorsement of Fianna Fáil.

An SDLP spokeswoman yesterday insisted the party's membership has been kept informed of developments.

"The SDLP MLA group, association of councillors and the governing body of the party, the management committee, all supported the SDLP leadership formally engaging in talks with Fianna Fáil," she said.

"Discussions are continuing and have focused on how we meet the challenges of Brexit, on restoring the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement and on building a new Ireland based on reconciliation.

"These discussions will reach a conclusion in the coming weeks.

"The party membership will continue to be updated by the leadership and will have the final say on how we take the outcome of those discussions forward."

SDLP Youth has already said it is "against any merger, working arrangement, etc with any party whose values and principles are contradictory to the values and principles of the SDLP".

A Fianna Fáil spokeswoman said yesterday the party is "not making any comment at this time".

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has previously said the party would take seats in the assembly and Westminster if it were to stand in the north.

"We certainly wouldn't contest elections and not take seats," he said earlier this year.

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.

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 Fianna Fáil leadership.

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