Northern Ireland’s SDLP has officially ended its four-year partnership with Fianna Fáil, with its leader Colm Eastwood telling members the party must “stand on its own two feet”.
r Eastwood announced his party’s extraordinary general meeting of 250 delegates to discuss the findings of an internal review into its poor assembly election performance.
SDLP sources said their leader told delegates that the partnership announced with Fianna Fáil in January 2019 was a product of post-Brexit dynamics and came at a time when the party had no MPs and MLAs (members of parliament). Stormont was able to fully function as the institutions collapsed.
Speaking at a meeting in a Belfast city-centre hotel at the weekend, he said he now firmly believed the SDLP was best off moving forward and facing the political challenges ahead independently.
Mr Eastwood, and former SDLP deputy leader Nicola Mallon, have been staunch supporters of the Fianna Fáil link-up, which at one point could have evolved into a merger and split the party.
At a special meeting in Newry in February 2019, delegates voted 53 to 121 to support the partnership. The then Stormont Assembly member Claire Hanna strongly opposed the move.
Saying she would never be a Fianna Fáil MLA, she resigned as the party’s Brexit spokesperson and said she would no longer attend SDLP group meetings at Stormont.
The chairpersons of the SDLP’s youth, women and LGBTQ wings said in an open letter that they were stepping down, strongly criticizing how the decision was made.
Supporters of the link-up see it as a lifeboat for the party as it battles an increasingly populist and professional Sinn Féin, organized on a 32-county basis.
However, the partnership with Fianna Fáil never really developed – partly due to Michael Martin’s cautious approach – and little has been heard about the cross-border relationship since its high-profile launch.
Mr Eastwood officially announced the end at an extraordinary meeting in Belfast’s Clayton Hotel last Saturday.
Members met to discuss the findings of an internal review of the party’s assembly election performance, which lost four MLAs and fell to just 9 percent of the vote.
The delegates adopted recommendations to modernize and streamline party structures.
Asked to comment on ending the partnership with Fianna Fáil, a party spokesman said: “Hundreds of SDLP members gathered in Belfast at the weekend for a positive and very successful debate about the party leadership’s proposals for organizational change.
“Members leave with a renewed sense of purpose and determination to change our society for the better.
“The SDLP is determined to create a social democratic new Ireland that meets the needs of all the people who share our island.
“We have worked intensively and constructively with Fianna Fáil over the past several years to advance that goal and we are proud to have helped shape the priorities of the Shared Island Unit, which deliver projects that bring our people closer together.
“We will continue to work with our friends in Fianna Fáil and with every party in this island’s democratic tradition, determined to deliver a new Ireland for everyone.”