Fianna Fail has decided to admit members from the North for the first time in its history. The move could lead to the party organising in the North or establishish an alliance with the SDLP.
The party’s National Executive meeting in Dublin last Thursday amended the party’s rules to open up membership in the North, a historic departure for the party. Previously, people in the North who wished to join Fianna Fail could only be classed as ‘registered supporters’.
Under the amended regulations they can be classed as ‘individual members’, although they cannot yet form a cumann, or local branch.
Several senior party sources have indicated that they believe that a large number of SDLP members, including public representatives, wish to join Fianna Fail. “If we organise there, we’ll get a lot of SDLP members,” said one senior Fianna Failer. “To be honest, we think the vast bulk of the SDLP’s membership would come to us.”
The SDLP leadership, on the other hand, is believed to be eager to secure some formal alliance with Fianna Fail before the British elections, expected in the Spring or Summer. However, senior Fianna Failers are reported to be reluctant to be drawn into what some are predicting will be another electoral disaster for the SDLP.
Some elements of the SDLP’s leadership are believed to favour a closer relationship with the Irish Labour Party. Labour leader Pat Rabbitte recently travelled to Belfast where he opened the “Northern Ireland Labour forum”.
HEALTH CAMPAIGN GROWS
Meanwhile, the Health Services Action Group is to field up to 15 candidates in the next general election in the South.
The group, set up to lobby for local health services, includes representatives from action groups across the 26 COunties who believe their hospitals could lose accident and emergency and other key services to larger hospitals if the Hanly report is implemented.
The areas affected which may field candidates include Ennis, Nenagh, Roscommon, Ballinasloe, Mallow, Portlaoise, Monaghan, Athlone, Mullingar and South Dublin.
The recent death of Monaghan man Benny McCullagh en route to Cavan hospital has motivated the campaigners. Mr McCullagh died after he suffered a heart attack at his home a short distance from Monaghan Hospital but couldn’t be taken there because it was “off call” due to reduced facilities.
The group’s chairman, Peadar McMahon, confirmed yesterday that “every hospital area under threat from the Hanly reforms would have a hospital candidate in the next general election”.
The decision had been taken now to give the group ample time to select candidates for the election, he said. “We are considering the optimum areas to put candidates forward. Up to 15 areas are being considered,” he said.
The decision to run Dail candidates will cause concern to Fianna Fail, but it could also hurt Fine Gael’s chances of forming a Rainbow administration with Labour and the Greens. The move could help to prop up the campaigns of a number of serving Independent TDs, several of whose seats will be targeted by the major parties.