‘Business as usual is no longer an option’

SDLP's Colm Eastwood MLA and Fianna Fail's Micheal Martin TD pictured together last month.
SDLP's Colm Eastwood MLA and Fianna Fail's Micheal Martin TD pictured together last month.

The decision to vote for a partnership with Fianna Fáil was no easy decision for SDLP members, the party leadership have said.

However in a statement issued by party leader, Foyle MLA Colum Eastwood and others at the helm of the party, it was stressed that it could no longer be “business as usual” in politics or for the people of Ireland.

Almost 70 per cent of party members voted in favour of closer ties with Micheál Martin and his party, in a crucial development in the evolution of the nationalist party at the weekend.

A total of 121 members backed establishing a formal policy partnership with Fianna Fail, while 53 voted in favour of a different proposal for a wider agreement which would include Fine Gael and Labour.

There have been some, including senior SDLP members and ex-members, who have expressed unease and even outright opposition to the partnership, with some expressing fears the “new relationship” may ultimately lead to the SDLP being subsumed into Fianna Fáil. And in a further development yesterday afternoon, prominent SDLP MLA Claire Hanna, resigned from her role as Brexit spokesperson stating she remained “unconvinced that an exclusive partnership with Fianna Fáil is the right vehicle with which to deliver the non-sectarian, transparent and social democratic new Ireland I believed in.”

Earlier, a statement after Saturday’s vote, Mr Eastwood and the party leadership stated: “The SDLP has a strong history of making tough decisions in the interests of the people we represent. This was not an easy choice for party members but they have again shown a willingness to put the interests of people first.

“We understand that the political environment across these islands is changing rapidly. Parties too, must be prepared to embrace change and respond to the challenges we all face. Business as usual is no longer an option.

“Together, SDLP and Fianna Fáil members, representatives and activists will forge a new relationship based on our proud and shared tradition of democratic struggle on this island. We will work together to begin in an unprecedented programme of public engagement in Northern Ireland, framing an ambitious and practical policy agenda for the future of this island and our people.”

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said he was “heartened by the emphatic support within the SDLP for our new partnership,” but the Labour Party, which has a long association with the SDLP, said it was “disappointed” with the result. “It remains our view that this move represents a precursor to a full merger,” the party said in a statement.