There are no indications that there has been any serious contemplation of an O’Loan scenario, in which the SDLP might seek terms with Sinn Fein inside the former. But in today’s Irish Times Fionnuala O’Connor thinks there might be some mileage in it. She notes the immediate context for the idea:
Realignment inside unionism has been much discussed, if not to much purpose, since defeat for both the UU and DUP leaders at the polls on May 6th. By contrast any question of nationalist realignment had been swept off the table in advance by the Ritchie leadership, though most assessments saw no yearning for closer ties with Sinn Féin in any case.
And she points to what may have been key to the immediate reckoning of the North Antrim MLA:
On May 6th Sinn Féin’s Dáithi McKay won 12.4 per cent to O’Loan’s 8.8 per cent. Without an improvement, O’Loan will struggle to hold his Stormont seat next year. In 2007 he made it thanks to Sinn Féin transfers on the last count.
The aftermath of his lunge at policymaking should be revealing. He is not the only anxious MLA, questioning party direction and even existence. The IRA is gone. Constitutional Sinn Féin has yet to convince the battle-scarred SDLP. Proposing amalgamation with their bitterest enemy still sounds like desperation. The party was set up to counter violent republicanism.
A few years back merging with Sinn Féin was unmentionable, when an insider saw the choices as a merger with Fianna Fáil or Labour, or to simply shut up shop. SDLP voters would have a viable option. “The Shinners are now the Stickies, so why not?”
Good question. Why not indeed? I tempted to retort, “because they can’t think of a better reason for living on their own?” But we’ve seen this same issue discussed on the Unionist unity threads, does it actually do nationalism any favours to have single party, particularly when STV fragments rather than builds single power blocs? And if it were decided that it would, then what terms could the SDLP expect from Sinn Fein?
Note: I am more than happy to take guest blogs on this subject as well as the unionist from any and every point of view…
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty