The SDLP has addressed growing speculation that it is to join forces with Fianna Fáil to create an all-Ireland party, with developments expected over the coming weeks.
There have been numerous reports that both parties are looking at a phased process of aligning policy ahead of any potential takeover.
SDLP leader, Colum Eastwood and Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin, have not, as yet, confirmed that a merger is on the cards, but an SDLP spokesperson has now stated that discussions on a range of issues are expected to conclude within weeks.
The SDLP spokesperson said: “The SDLP MLA Group, Association of Councillors and the governing body of the party, the Management Committee, all supported the SDLP leadership formally engaging in talks with Fianna Fáil.
“Discussions are continuing and have focused on how we meet the challenges of Brexit; on restoring the institutions of the good Friday Agreement and on building a new Ireland based on reconciliation. These discussions will reach a conclusion in the coming weeks.
“The Party membership will continue to be updated by the leadership and will have the final say on how we take the outcome of those discussions forward.”
The SDLP was founded in August, 1970 and for decades was the dominant force in nationalist politics in the North, steered by political giant and Nobel Peace Laureate John Hume.
Mr. Hume was succeeded by Mark Durkan and Colum Eastwood, the third Derry man to be elected leader , has led the party since 2015.
Sinn Fein - currently the largest all-Ireland party - meanwhile, said they would relish any challenge from another all-Ireland party.
Foyle SF MLA, Raymond McCartney, commented: “All-Ireland politics is the clear direction of travel for all of us on this island as the failure of partition and the disaster of Brexit unfold around us.”
He also said that the electorate across Ireland would have “a clear choice” between what he termed the “progressive politics” of Sinn Féín and the “conservative politics” of Fianna Fáil.
Meanwhile, Colum Eastwood, in his New Year Message, also hinted strongly that the party was readying itself for a new phase.
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