Divisions deepen as SDLP veteran says republican deal risks alienating unionists

Alban Maginness
Alban Maginness
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Divisions within the SDLP over its newly-announced alignment with Fianna Fail have publicly deepened, after a long-standing SDLP veteran said that the move could damage relations with unionists.

Divisions within the SDLP over its newly-announced alignment with Fianna Fail have publicly deepened, after a long-standing SDLP veteran said that the move could damage relations with unionists.

Alban Maginness, former MLA for North Belfast, wrote that unionists will be “apprehensive” about the new partnership with Fianna Fail – a party created by Eamon De Valera from the more hardline side of the Irish Civil War.

Its official name is ‘Fianna Fail –The Republican Party’.

Meanwhile yesterday, two key SDLP figures – including ex-leader Mark Durkan – declined to offer clear backing for the plan.

Mr Maginness, whose career as an SDLP candidate dates back to 1975, and declined to re-contest his seat in 2016.

He wrote in his regular Belfast Telegraph column on Wednesday: “Fianna Fail, outside some border areas, has little traction with the nationalist electorate.

“It could also impact negatively upon the unionist community, who will be apprehensive about any alignment with Fianna Fail.”

He could not be reached yesterday. And though his article did not flesh out why he felt unionists would object, he stated the SDLP is the only party able to “build the necessary bridge to the unionist community”.

His view was rejected by serving SDLP MLA Justin McNulty, who said he is “100%” behind the deal.

The Newry and Armagh MLA told the News Letter unionists have historically been “comfortable in the company of the SDLP ... they can rest assured our values and philosophy remain the same whilst being part of a bigger all-island partnership”.

Asked about Fianna Fail’s republican background, he said: “What’s wrong with the word ‘republican’? Because one party have debased that term, republican isn’t a dirty word. I’m a proud republican.

“We are all-island in our outlook and believe unionists should have nothing to fear from that. I’m a constitutional republican.”

He added: “I believe that unionists are looking for leadership on an all-island basis and not one that’s driven by another agenda. Leadership in shaping our all-island future, especially in the context of Brexit, and that future has been misguided by one voice which would be alienating to the unionist commity, I believe.”

Ex-MP Mark Durkan, a former SDLP leader and deputy first minister, was asked yesterday if he was favourable or unfavourable towards the Fianna Fail partnership.

He told the News Letter: “I’m not unfavourable towards it. All of these things are matters in which people are going to have to take views and all the rest of it.”

He said he has long believed a “relignment” was needed in Irish politics, but added: “I’m not making any announcements, because it’s not my position to.”

Dolores Kelly MLA, meanwhile, said she was not going to comment on the matter until she had discussed it at a regional party meeting this weekend.

The news of a “partnership” with Fianna Fail was officially announced last Thursday, and SDLP members will vote on it at a special meeting in Newry on February 9 (Saturday) – although little information about how it will actually work has emerged in the public domain.