Fianna Fail is to take over the SDLP and contest elections in the Six Counties as part of a major political realignment for both parties, according to reports.
The planned move would see the two initially stand on a joint platform for next spring’s local and European elections, as part of a phased process which would eventually bring both under the Fianna Fail name.
The merger would also involve celebrity figures in an attempt to ensure it is seen as more than just a coalescence of the two parties, but an island-wide nationalist movement.
Talks are said to be ongoing between Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and senior officials.
The parties have held talks in the past, but the latest are said to be the most serious yet.
In 2007, under the direction of then leader Bertie Ahern, Fianna Fail first registered as a political party in the Six Counties. It has always styled itself as a ‘republican party’, although its criticisms of Sinn Fein have become venemous under the leadership of Micheal Martin.
According to the Irish Times, Fianna Fail’s ruling executive was recently told to expect incremental developments on the party organising in the North next month, and that it was talking to “groups” across the Border.
For its part the SDLP, an explicitly Social Democratic and Labour Party, is organised only in the Six Counties but has a long-standing alliance with the left-wing Irish Labour Party.
A joint message to SDLP members from Colum Eastwood and his deputy Nichola Mallon this week described the reports of a merger as “deeply unhelpful”. Amid signs of unease among the party’s youth wing, they said that the SDLP’s future would be decided solely by its membership.
“In light of that speculation, we want to give you the membership the firmest reassurance that the future of this party will be decided by the party - no-one else,” the leaders said.
“It will be our decision and our decision alone. In deciding that future, as set out at the party conference, we are determined that our politics and our values of reconciliation and partnership will always, always endure.”
In light of the merger reports, Sinn Fein’s Imelda Munster branded Fianna Fail “hypocrites” after the party refused to clarify if it would run candidates in Westminster elections.
Deputy Munster was speaking after Fianna Fail TD Thomas Byrne refused to answer a question about his party’s intentions to take seats in Westminster.
When pressed about Fianna Fail’s willingness to take an oath of allegiance to the Queen of England, Mr Byrne said ‘that is the last thing Fianna Fail will do’.
“This is yet another example of the outright hypocrisy of Fianna Fail. They should stop speaking with forked tongues and try to take a clear position on an issue for once,” said Ms Munster.
“If Fianna Fail intends to bring its brand of economic ruination and political populism to the North, the least its representatives could do is answer some fundamental questions about their electoral intentions.”
She said she was “puzzled, given their obsession with Sinn Fein’s position” that they haven’t reached a position on the matter.
“I would like Fianna Fail to clarify whether they intend to take their seats in Westminster, if elected, and if they are happy to take an oath of allegiance to a foreign Queen.”