A prominent Fianna Fail figure has spoken out against any merger with the SDLP.
Eamon O’Cuiv TD indicated Fianna Fail should stand candidates in Northern Ireland without the help of anyone else, and refused to be drawn on whether he will quit if the mooted tie-up between the two parties indeed goes ahead.
Mr O’Cuiv – grandson of Fianna Fail founder Eamon De Valera – was speaking to the News Letter as the outcome of talks between the parties is awaited, with the SDLP saying last week that the negotiations were nearing a conclusion.
He said: “I’m not in favour of an amalgamation with any other party, north or south. Because I see that Fianna Fail has a unique ethos that doesn’t represent the ethos of any existing party.
“Fianna Fail members might object to the merger on the basis that Fianna Fail traditionally was the largest, broadest republican party in the south and represented traditionally, until 2011, between 40% and 50% of the voters on a consistent basis since the 1930s.”
By contrast the SDLP has perhaps 20% of the non-unionist vote and is “very much a middle-class party”, adding: “I think there’d be concern among some members of Fianna Fail at hitching their wagon [to a party] which doesn’t have very broad appeal and doesn’t appeal to the traditional republican vote in Northern Ireland.
“The name of Fianna Fail is actually ‘Fianna Fail the Republican Party’. And I think some SDLP people would have a difficulty with that. They are what they are – but they’re not Fianna Fail.”
Fianna Fail is hard to place in terms of a typical left-right split.
As to whether it is a conservative party (as some reports describe it), Mr O’Cuiv said it is “pro-enterprise” but also “socially distributive”.
Ultimately, he said “I don’t have to choose” where it sits on a traditional political spectrum.
And whilst stressing Fianna Fail’s republicanism he said there is “nuance” within the term; it can be akin to French republicanism and “nothing to do with violence”, he said.
He indicated Fianna Fail should be proceeding to stand candidates in Northern Ireland alone, and that a merger with the SDLP “would damage Fianna Fail” in Northern Ireland and “wreck our chance”.
Mr O’Cuiv was one of the senior Fianna Fail figures present at a meeting in Omagh last October when Sorcha McAnespy (formerly of Sinn Fein) was announced as its first Northern Irish election candidate in recent memory.
The announcement came complete with a large Fianna Fail-branded election placard bearing her name and face.
But a mere hour later Fianna Fail headquarters denied she was a candidate.
Soon afterwards Mr O’Cuiv was stripped of his post as the party’s rural and regional development spokesman.
“The best thing for us to do is just get on there,” said Mr O’Cuiv.
“[A merger would] wreck our chance to stand and make the broad appeal I’d like to make. Fortune favours the brave, right? Get on with it.”
Asked if he will resign if a merger goes ahead, he said he was “not going to answer any questions on a hypothetical situation”.