THE SDLP in northern Ireland has officially ended its near four-year partnership with Fianna Fáil as its leader Colum Eastwood told members that the party must move forward “standing on its own two feet”.
Mr Eastwood made the announcement to 250 delegates at an extraordinary general meeting of his party to discuss the findings of an internal review into its poor Assembly election performance.
SDLP sources said their leader told delegates that the partnership announced with Fianna Fáil in January 2019 had been a product of post-Brexit dynamics, and came about at a time when the party had no MPs and MLAs (members of the legislative assembly) weren’t able to function fully as the Stormont institutions had collapsed.
Speaking at the gathering in a Belfast city-centre hotel at the weekend, he said he now firmly believed it was best for the SDLP to move forward and face the political challenges ahead independently.
Mr Eastwood, and former SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon, had been strong supporters of the Fianna Fáil link-up which at one point looked as if it could evolve into a merger and split the party.
Delegates at a special meeting in Newry in February 2019 supported the partnership by 121 votes to 53. Claire Hanna, then a Stormont Assembly member, strongly opposed the move.
Saying she could never become a Fianna Fáil MLA, she resigned as the party’s Brexit spokesperson and said she would no longer attend SDLP group meetings at Stormont.
The chairpersons of the SDLP's youth, women and LGBTQ wings said they were stepping down in an open letter that was sharply critical of how the decision was reached.
Supporters of the link-up saw it as a lifeboat for the party as it battled with an increasingly popular and professional Sinn Fein organised on a 32-county basis.
However, the partnership with Fianna Fáil never developed properly – partly due to Micheál Martin’s cautious approach – and little had been heard about the cross-border relationship since its high-profile launch.
Mr Eastwood officially announced it was over at the extraordinary meeting at Belfast’s Clayton Hotel last Saturday.
Members gathered to discussing the findings of the internal review into the party’s Assembly election performance which saw it lose four MLAs and its vote fall to just 9pc.
Delegates approved recommendations to modernise and streamline party structures.
When asked for comment on the ending of its partnership with Fianna Fáil, a party spokesperson said: “Hundreds of SDLP members met in Belfast at the weekend for a positive, and very successful, discussion about the party leadership’s proposals for organisational change.
"Members left with a renewed sense of mission and determination to change our society for the better.
“The SDLP is determined to create a social democratic new Ireland that meets the needs of all the people who share our island.
"We have worked intensively and constructively with Fianna Fáil over the last number of years to advance that goal and we are proud to have helped shape the priorities of the Shared Island Unit which is delivering on projects that bring our people closer together.
“We will continue to work closely with our friends in Fianna Fáil and with every party in the democratic tradition on this island that is determined to deliver a new Ireland for everyone.”