SDLP-FF merger plan a ‘natural progression’

Former Lord Mayor of Belfast Pat McCarthy
Former Lord Mayor of Belfast Pat McCarthy

A long-serving SDLP figure has said he is not concerned by suggestions that the party could effectively disappear under a rumoured merger with Dublin-based Fianna Fail.

Pat McCarthy, who has been a member of the party for almost two decades, urged his colleagues to “embrace change”, adding that the Northern Ireland electorate was “embracing all-Ireland politics”.

The former Lord Mayor of Belfast was speaking after reports that a “significant” announcement is expected in the coming weeks on a possible phased process leading to the integration of the two parties.

The 65-year-old, who has also been a member of Fianna Fail for 10 years – having stood unsuccessfully for the party’s national executive last year – said a mooted amalgamation of the two parties was “the natural progression of politics on the island of Ireland”.

Senior sources from both parties told the Irish Times on Monday that an important part of the ongoing talks between the parties was devising an alliance that “maintained the legacy of the SDLP”.

However, a Fianna Fail figure also said the alignment will ultimately result in “one all-island party which will be called Fianna Fail”.

When asked if he was concerned this suggestion, he replied: “It doesn’t worry me in the least.

“Why are people afraid of change?

“We had the old Nationalist Party for 50 years, we had the National Democratic Party, we had Northern Ireland Labour; they all disappeared.

“People should be open to embrace change. I don’t think anyone should be afraid of it.”

Mr McCarthy, who sat on the SDLP national executive for 16 years, said the party had been in decline for well over a decade.

An SDLP source told the News Letter that, having spoken to councillors in the party the length and breadth of the Province, he was convinced that the “vast majority are ready and willing to embrace” the proposed merger.

The News Letter contacted a number of SDLP members yesterday in a bid to gauge opinion on the matter.

Of the more than 10 people we contacted by phone, only three answered, and none were willing to comment.

MLA’s Patsy McGlone and Daniel McCrossan both said it was an “internal party matter”, while former SDLP deputy leader Seamus Mallon said he had “no information on the subject whatsoever”.

In his New Year’s message, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has said the party is ready to “embrace” change in 2019.