Martin vows to revive Stormont with SDLP pact

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A new alignment between political parties in the Six and 26 Counties looks set to go ahead after Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said the party is in talks with the SDLP. He said the parties plan to develop a “new political agenda” to “get the North working”.

Mr Martin said his party, which is traditionally conservative, had a long standing relationship with the left-leaning SDLP in the North. He said there would be “an intensification of that relationship”, without revealing details.

The cash-strapped SDLP is understood to be hoping to make an announcement at its annual conference in October.

Martin was speaking as the Stormont Assembly reached the record of 589 days since the Democratic Unionist and Sinn Fein-led powersharing executive collapsed -- matching Belgium for the world’s longest peacetime period without a properly functioning government.

Politicians of all of the main parties at the Assembly, who continue to be paid despite its collapse, oppose an election. That position is supported by the British government. British Direct Ruler Karen Bradley has denied her government has abandoned the democratic process in the North, and says she remains hopeful that talks can yet bring about the return of power-sharing.

This week the DUP staged a photo-op to blame Sinn Fein for the deadlock, unfurling a banner at Stormont to call on the party to end their “boycott”. Sinn Fein has said there must be agreement on issues of civil rights before it agrees to return to Stormont, where the DUP would once again wield a veto over political change.

A new public internet-based campaign, ‘We Deserve Better’, has called for the return of the power-sharing Executive in the belief that the North’s public services would operate more effectively under locally-elected Ministers. Meetings have been organised in several locations in support of the campaign.

Mr Martin said both Fianna Fail and the SDLP had shared concerns over the lack of public faith in the devolved institutions at Stormont.

“There is a need for a new political agenda in the North that’s not just constitutionally obsessed, there is a large middle ground in the North who want bread and butter issues of the day dealt with competently and by a government,” he said.

“It’s a scandal that the Assembly and the Executive are not in situ given the enormous threat that Brexit represents. I think it’s incredible and incomprehensible that Sinn Fein and the DUP would let this to happen -- it should never have been collapsed in the first place and I said that at the time.”

Mr Martin warned that “cross-border institutions are withering on the vine”. There was very poor morale among those involved in these institutions as “the momentum has been sapped out of them” by the failure to implement the Good Friday Agreement, he said.

Asked about unionist claims a possible merger of the SDLP and Fianna Fail would ‘destabilise Northern Ireland’, Mr Martin suggested unionists could also support what he said would be “a new political agenda”.

“The first part of this is really about the politics of it in the sense that this isn’t just about political parties, it’s about a real genuine effort to get the focus on the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and to get politics working for people in practical ways,” he said.

“That’s because there are a quite significant number of people who are not obsessed with identity politics in the North and who want a different approach and so, when we talk about the need for a new political agenda, we are not saying it just has to be in narrow prism of nationalist/republican idea but rather in addition to that it reaches out to a broad range of people to get the North working.”

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