After years of debate on the issue, SDLP delegates will converge on Newry today to finally vote on the party’s proposed partnership with Fianna Fail.
The party is styling the move as a partnership rather than a merger, with 11 of its 12 MLAs backing the move. However, an amendment to the motion will also be debated which could instead see the party also build formal partnerships with Fine Gael and the Irish Labour Party.
Former leader Alasdair McDonnell said it is not yet clear what the Fianna Fail link would mean.
“However the shutdown of Stormont and Brexit on top of that has created a demand for something to break the stalemate,” he said.
However, personally, he is “in favour of working with everybody in Dublin and Brussels”.
Another former leader, Margaret Ritchie, said she was initially opposed to the link, but has changed her mind in light of Brexit and the lack of devolved government. She said there had been some opposition from elements of SDLP youth. “But among my wider coterie of colleagues people are generally supportive of the idea.”
Newry delegate John McArdle believes the proposal will be supported by about two thirds of the delegates, although he does see a Belfast-rural split.
“Belfast would be more centre left but it will probably not be enough to overcome the vote,” he said. He thinks there will eventually be a single All Ireland identity for one party.
However former MLA Alban Maginnis wants a number of partners . “I feel that we have to relate to all the democratic parties in the south,” he said.