Colum Eastwood warned of unhappy members after SDLP gives backing to Fianna Fail link

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood (centre) speaks to the media after his party voted to back a new partnership with Ireland's main opposition party, Fianna Fail
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood (centre) speaks to the media after his party voted to back a new partnership with Ireland's main opposition party, Fianna Fail
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SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has been warned that a group of party members are “considering options” after a link-up with Fianna Fail was confirmed on Saturday.

The SDLP leadership’s proposed partnership with the Dublin-based party was backed by a substantial majority of members – almost 70% – at a special conference held in Newry.

But former Irish Labour Senator Mairia Cahill told the News Letter on Sunday she has now contacted Mr Eastwood about the concerns of a “number of people” in the party who are now considering their options following Saturday’s vote.

This follows the resignation from the party of a former Belfast City councillor, Niall Kelly, who said in a statement that he accepts the decision made on Saturday but does not support it.

Further resignations also came when the chairs of the SDLP Youth, Women and LGBT+ branches stepped down from their roles.

All three, however, said in a letter to the party chairman Colin McGrath that they would “campaign hard” for SDLP candidates in the forthcoming council elections in May.

Matthew Corr (Youth branch chairperson), Caoimhe McNeill (Women’s branch chairperson) and Matthew Carson (LGBT+ branch chairperson) cited “procedural abuses” at the conference on Saturday.

Their joint letter to Mr McGrath criticised the way the conference was called, the process to submit motions or amendments, and the lack of notice given to members.

The proposed partnership with Fianna Fail was backed by 121 votes, while a motion put forward by SDLP veteran Brid Rodgers for a wider partnership that would include two other Dublin-based parties – Irish Labour and Fine Gael – gained only 53 votes.

Opponents of the link-up with Fianna Fail include the high-profile South Belfast MLA Claire Hanna, who said: “I came believing an exclusive arrangement was not a good idea, I have not changed my mind.”

Lisburn and Castlereagh councillor Ms Cahill, who joined the SDLP in only July last year after having served in the Irish Senate as a Labour representative following a by-election in 2015, said she is now considering her options.

Speaking to the News Letter, she said: “I’ve said from the very start of all this that I’m a Labour member and I remain a Labour member.

“I haven’t heard yet how a Labour member is going to be made to feel comfortable in a partnership with Fianna Fail.

“I have texted Colum Eastwood this morning (Sunday) to say that a number of people have contacted me trying to make a decision as to what to do.

“I don’t think this is settled yet. I have advised Colum that he has two options – he can either embrace those people or he can push them further away. It would be in his best interests to embrace them.”

She added: “I’m considering my options on the way forward.”

Following the vote, Mr Eastwood said: “What we have agreed today is a policy partnership, to try to deal with the very real problems, the crises that are in our politics today.

“It is a hard slog, it will be a lot of hard work, but people look at the alternatives and the fact that we have had no government in this place for two years.”

The Foyle MLA continued: “The people representing us in Westminster either don’t turn up or vote against the wishes of the people of Northern Ireland.

“That is not good enough, it is time to see a change, we are committed to making that change and looking forward to rolling our sleeves up, to getting around the doors and working together to make sure we see that happen.

“We are not pretending this is a quick fix.”