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Fianna Fáil ties could see SDLP excluded from European socialist group

The European group of socialists may exclude the SDLP over its ties with Fianna Fáil

EUROPE'S umbrella socialist grouping has not ruled out excluding the SDLP if the party pushes ahead with its planned partnership with Fianna Fáil.

The SDLP will hold a special conference on Saturday February 9 where party members will decide whether to endorse the joint plan announced last week.

Misgivings about enhanced links between Micheál Martin and Colum Eastwood's parties have been voiced by former SDLP deputy leader Bríd Rodgers.

The former Stormont agriculture minister told The Irish News she was concerned about the "threat" to the SDLP's social democratic principles and its membership of

the Party of European Socialists (PES).

Her remarks came after Irish Labour leader Brendan Howlin said earlier this month that the SDLP must break its ties with Europe's umbrella socialist grouping if it builds a formal relationship with Fianna Fáil, which is aligned to the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.

A spokesman for PES said that currently the matter was "an internal SDLP issue" but that circumstances could change after next month's special conference.

"If the proposal is approved by SDLP party members, the PES presidency will discuss the situation at its next meeting," the spokesman said.

"As set out in the PES statues, a decision to suspend a member party can be taken by the PES presidency, while the decision to exclude a suspended member is taken by the PES congress."

An SDLP spokeswoman said leader Colum Eastwood had consistently said that the party has no intention from withdrawing from PES.

Meanwhile, Sinead McLaughlin, the former chief executive Londonderry Chamber of Commerce who was recently co-opted onto Derry City and Strabane District Council, has said the proposed partnership between the two parties is what sealed her decision to represent the SDLP.

"This forward-looking, ambitious and dynamic partnership has come not a moment too soon," she said.

"Prior to joining the party and undertaking the DCSDC co-option, I made my feelings about the partnership clear to the leadership, it was this direction of travel that helped me finalise my decision to become an SDLP councillor."

Ms McLaughlin said she was "fully in favour" of the link between the two parties.

"I am as convinced now, as I was then, that this partnership was the right decision, not just for the party or politics, but for the people of Ireland," she said.

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