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Claire Hanna declines to join fellow SDLP MLAs in endorsing Fianna Fáil partnership

Colum Eastwood and Nichola Mallon are among the MLAs endorsing a partnership with Fianna Fáil. Picture by Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press

ALL but one of the SDLP's assembly team has signed a letter urging members to back the proposed partnership with Fianna Fáil.

As expected, South Belfast MLA Claire Hanna is absent from the list of those endorsing the enhanced links between the parties outlined a fortnight ago.

Ms Hanna has told The Irish News she regards the new north-south relationship as a "merger" that will "narrow" her party's appeal at the polls.

The SDLP leadership hopes the plan for greater collaboration will be ratified by members at a special conference in Newry on Saturday.

Claire Hanna has said she regards the SDLP's partnership with Fianna Fáil as a 'merger'. Picture by Hugh Russell

The letter signed by leader Colum Eastwood, his deputy Nichola Mallon and nine other MLAs confirms their support for the "proposal of a policy partnership" between the SDLP and Fianna Fáil.

The signatories say they "believe in the SDLP, in our proud legacy and in our bright future".

However, in order to deliver a "just and prosperous new Ireland", the MLAs say the party must offer the kind of politics that "wins elections".

"This partnership with Fianna Fail offers the opportunity for us to work collectively to develop and deliver new ideas – to create a policy platform that will address the issues that matter most to our people," the letter states.

"With this partnership we can use for the first time an all island platform to meet the all island challenges facing all our people and to realise our vision since our foundation."

It concludes by saying the signatories are "proudly SDLP".

"We are excited that working together in this new way, we can make change happen.

"We look forward to our discussions this weekend and urge you to back this partnership."

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But according to Ms Hanna, a long-time opponent of greater links with Fianna Fáil, the proposals will not solve the SDLP's problems.

"I recognise fully the SDLP’s electoral decline and the changed dynamic in politics here but, respectful of the leadership’s intentions, think this merger solves neither problem," she said last night.

"An exclusive relationship with one party narrows the SDLP’s appeal to the northern electorate and our reach in southern politics."

She said the party needed to maintain and develop its links not just with Fianna Fáil but also with Labour and Fine Gael.

"Colum Eastwood has asked for alternatives and I hope members will be given the opportunity to amend and build on the proposal we have just been shown," she said.

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