SDLP's Bríd Rodgers 'cannot support' Fianna Fáil partnership plan
FORMER SDLP deputy leader Bríd Rodgers has said she "cannot support" the party's proposed partnership with Fianna Fáil.
The former Stormont minister said she fears it threatens the SDLP's social democratic principles and "will have a negative effect on the work of reconciliation" across Ireland.
Ms Rodgers said the SDLP should be working with "all like-minded parties on the island" to deliver on the promise of the Good Friday Agreement.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin last week announced plans for a "historic" partnership between their parties.
It followed many months of well-trailed talks which fuelled speculation of a future merger, but both parties have downplayed the suggestion.
A specially-convened SDLP conference is scheduled for February 9 in Newry where the party membership is set to vote on the plans.
Speaking to The Irish News yesterday, Ms Rodgers voiced her opposition to the proposed partnership.
"I am concerned in the first place about the threat to our social democratic principles and our membership of the socialist group in Europe," the former MLA said.
"Secondly the SDLP has always worked with all the major political parties on the island who have shared John Hume's vision of reconciliation in the north and between north and south, based on working the common ground together as envisaged in the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement.
"The Labour Party and Fine Gael have always been totally supportive and along with Fianna Fáil have contributed to building the peace we now take for granted.
"Why should we now decide to work with only one party? I fear that the proposed new partnership will have a negative effect on the work of reconciliation."
She added: "The DUP/Sinn Féin axis has failed the people of Northern Ireland. They have failed to deliver on the promise of the Good Friday Agreement. I believe we must continue to work with all like-minded parties on the island to deliver on that promise.
"Despite the difficulties faced by the SDLP at the present time I cannot support what is seemingly being proposed."
SDLP South Belfast MLA Claire Hanna, the party's Brexit spokesperson, has also been a critic of the planned partnership and was notably absent from last Thursday's press announcement.
But others such as West Tyrone MLA Daniel McCrossan have welcomed a closer relationship with Fianna Fáil.
The SDLP and Fianna Fáil pitched the partnership as being aimed at unfreezing the Stormont deadlock.
Northern Ireland has not had a devolved government since the DUP and Sinn Féin-led executive collapsed two years ago.
Mr Martin ruled out standing candidates in Northern Ireland at this time, instead pledging "extra capacity" to support SDLP election campaigns starting with May's council election.