The SDLP is to cease designating itself as a nationalist party in the Stormont Assembly in a move that could herald a realignment in politics in the North.
Following the call by party leader Mark Durkan for an end to power-sharing between those parties designated nationalist or unionist -- as mandated by the 1998 Good Friday Agreement -- the SDLP is to cease promoting itself as a nationalist party, according to sources.
The move to reposition itself follows the party’s loss of support among moderate nationalists to Sinn Féin and will allow the party to compete directly with the small Alliance Party, which it will join as a designated cross-community party.
It will open the possibility of the SDLP winning votes among moderate unionists, as well as from an increasing number of voters who identify with neither of the two traditional constituencies.
As part of a general rebranding, the SDLP last week supported the highly contentious sectarian march by British troops through Belfast city centre.
And despite calls for his resignation, the SDLP Mayor of strongly nationalist city of Derry this week held a private reception for British Army troops in the city.
SDLP Councillor Gerard Diver has faced fierce criticism over the reception for the murderous Royal Irish Regiment on Friday night.
He said: “From the start of my term, I have committed myself to be a Mayor for all. In that spirit of civic responsibility and of equality for all traditions, I responded to this request and agreed to host an informal reception... This event was a civilian occasion for the personnel and their families, with no uniforms or military trappings.”
He said the decision to host the RIR, formerly the UDR was “in the interests of equality”.
Sinn Féin Councillor Maeve McLaughlin however said the decision had caused shockwaves among local people whose loved ones had been killed by the British Army.
“I think the decision to host an event such as this was shameful”, she said, adding that the mayor “clearly acted against the wishes of the people of this city.”
The Irish Republican Socialist Party in Derry has said the mayor’s decision was “an affront to the people of Derry” and called on the councillor to resign.
A party spokesperson said: “Mayor Gerard Diver welcomed local members of the imperialist British Army to his parlour in order to recognise their safe homecoming from imperialist war.
“Councillor Diver should consider his position and resign from office. He has shamed not only himself but the entire city by his pro-imperialist actions.”
ADAMS ‘NOT DIVERTED’
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has told supporters in the US that he wants to reach an accommodation with unionism, but that some ‘Afrikaner’ unionists were not just opposing change but acting in a “mean-spirited and negative” manner.
The west Belfast MP was speaking to a fundraising dinner for his party in New York as the dispute between Sinn Féin and the DUP today againt forced the cancellation of a meeting of the Six County Executive, which has not convened since June.
The DUP and its leader Peter Robinson have repeatedly singled out Mr Adams for personal attacks in recent weeks in an effort to isolate and damage the Sinn Féin leader.
Mr Adams said: “Once, unionism dominated life in the north... today, if political unionism wants to exercise power, it can only do so if it is prepared to work in partnership with republicans and within the all-Ireland political architecture of the Good Friday and St Andrews Agreements.
“Some elements of unionism continue to resist change. But for the leadership of unionism today the question is very simple.
“Is it ready to move forward with the rest of us?”
Sinn Féin and the DUP are in talks today, again aimed at ending deadlock over issues including the transfer of policing and justice powers from the Westminster parliament in London to the Stormont Assembly in Belfast.
“Few human beings of my acquaintance are as petty and mean-spirited and negative as those in the ‘Afrikaner’ wing of unionism,” said Mr Adams.
“But if we are truly about nation-building - and that is what Sinn Féin is about - then we cannot allow ourselves to be distracted or diverted by negative and reactionary elements.”