Interesting story from the Belfast Telegraph Political Editor, Suzanne Breen this morning about the potential of an arrangement between the SDLP and Fianna Fail.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has refused to rule out “a realignment in Irish politics” that would see his party standing aside and Fianna Fail organising in Northern Ireland.
Senior SDLP sources told the Belfast Telegraph that around 80% of the party supported it “leaving the stage” to make way for Fianna Fail.
They want the move to happen swiftly so Fianna Fail can contest next year’s council elections here.
However, Mr Eastwood indicated that while progress towards such major political change was unlikely to happen imminently, it couldn’t be ruled out over a longer time-frame.
He said: “We are having a conversation with other parties about the new political context as a result of Brexit.
“Our immediate focus is on responding to that change. Is there a possibility of change that leads in future to political realignment? Yes, there is. But that is a conversation for another day.”
An SDLP Spokesperson has responded to the article;
“Our politics and our movement are crucial to the future of this island and we will not abandon our vision for a reconciled people in a New Ireland.
“As a political movement born from the civil rights movement, that led the formulation of the Good Friday Agreement, at huge times of change it is the SDLP who find the solutions. Our politics is needed now to bring people back together as others focus only on pulling people apart.
“The SDLP is always up for the conversation about how we meet the challenges facing this island particularly in the changing context of Brexit.
“The SDLP has and will continue to work with all parties across the island in pursuit of the best solutions to protect the interests of all people here.
“As we have always said realignment across the island cannot be ruled out in the future. But our focus remains on working to stop a return to British Direct Rule by restoring devolution to protect the interests of people here through a locally accountable government.
“Comments from unnamed sources amount to no more than speculation.”
This is not the first time that a potential link up has been mooted, so I would take a pinch of salt with this happening within the next few months. There is increasing speculation that Leo Varadkar will dash to the polls at some point this year and after 7 years in opposition, Fianna Fail will be looking to get back into government as the main party.
Context is very different after Brexit and the recent General Election which will push this conversation along. The fact that the SDLP have no MPs left and the prospect of some form of a border back on the island of Ireland, does throw up serious questions about the role of a regional party within Nationalism. If the last General Election showed anything it’s that voters are moving away from Westminster and are increasingly looking to Dublin for leadership.
Another issue to consider in all of this is that old Walter Mondale line, “where’s the beef?” Fianna Fail is a broad tent that can accommodate various different views but there needs to be something new in this initiative that makes it different. If the goal is to simply be SDLP with an Irish name or just a tent for people to advocate against Sinn Fein, then it’s not going to work. This needs to be a new vehicle that can provide a new narrative for republicanism in Northern Ireland.
Finally, who would win out of this? Republicanism would. Two parties standing in every constituency across the country, battling each other creates new ideas and energy. That’s the main positive and that’s how competitive politics can benefit us all.
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs