Thursday, February 17, 2005

SDLP-Fianna Fail merger?

Brian Feeney explains why an SDLP-Fianna Fail merger will not happen:

There has been much talk in recent times about an SDLP-Fianna Fail merger.

So much in fact that the day his party conference began Mark Durkan felt the need to deny the prospect of any such 'realignment' as he called it.

Unfortunately, instead of just rubbishing it he weakened his position by adding that any such realignment was a matter for the future and was not a 'quick fix'.

Read it here first folks.

There won't be a merger between SDLP and Fianna Fail.

Panicky souls in the SDLP began promoting the suggestion seriously after the disastrous SDLP performance in the 2001 British general election. The Sinn Féin surge in the 2002 Dail election added a new urgency to the idea.

The idea is inherently daft.

Its sole driving motive is the naive belief, among those in the SDLP who foresee the party's demise, that Fianna Fail organising in the north can somehow stave off the rise and rise of Sinn Féin.

How? Why would it work?

Is the assumption that if there were ever to be another assembly election, SDLP candidates would rebrand themselves Fianna Fail candidates and that, presented with this irresistible, enticing new brand name, the north's nationalist electorate who have deserted the SDLP in their tens of thousands would swarm out and overturn Sinn Féin's dominant position in northern nationalism's political religion? Seriously? Is it that simple?

Can anyone explain why voters should suddenly find a plate of political retreads such a mouth-watering dish? If they weren't retreads who else could they be? Have Fianna Fail got about 50 prospective candidates for an assembly lurking as sleepers around the north?

Who would stand for Fianna Fail in the British general election in 2010? Where are the charismatic new nationalist politicians who can burst on the scene and wrest a Westminster seat from Sinn Féin in less than five years?

No, the fundamental position of the SDLP no-hopers is a prayer in aid to Fianna Fail: save us from the Shinners. It won't happen.

The only possibility is that if the SDLP vanishes from the scene as a viable political force, then some in Fianna Fail might be tempted to offer a refuge to nationalist voters in the north who would never in any circumstances vote Sinn Féin. That would still mean splitting the nationalist vote and incoming Fianna Failers would get no thanks for that.

There's another dimension to this.

One of the cardinal principles John Hume held was that northern nationalists should not take sides in southern politics. Partitionist? Maybe. But that position meant northern nationalists, as represented by Mr Hume, could remain on friendly terms with any government in Dublin.

What would happen if there were a Fine Gael/Labour coalition government and northern nationalists were represented by Sinn Féin and Fianna Fail? How much weight would they carry?

Another crucial advantage of Mr Hume's strategy and a great achievement compared to the decades before 1970, was that a single unaligned northern party could act as the Irish government in the north, which is what, in effect, the SDLP was.

In a united front with Dublin the SDLP promoted and articulated the policy of successive Irish governments on the north.

From 1985 on, proposals that Irish governments put to the British were in the main jointly drafted by the SDLP and Irish officials: the 1989 Fair Employment Act is the best example.

Were Fianna Fail to enter the fray in the north the strategy would be impossible unless Fianna Fail were always in government, which even the most blindly loyal Fianna Failer wouldn't expect.

Even if they were, officials and ministers would be reluctant to include Sinn Féin in delicate details about northern issues in case Sinn Féin TDs used them to the government's disadvantage in the Dail. As a result, the position of northern nationalists would be considerably weakened.

On top of the dissension that would be caused by jockeying for position in Dublin, there's no need to describe the opportunities open to the British administration here for sowing seeds of division in nationalist politics.

Finally, think of the humiliation if the soldiers of destiny marched north and were slaughtered in their first encounter with Sinn Féin? Why risk it? As Charlie Haughey used to ask, 'What's the percentage in it?'

No, there'll be no merger, no take over, no move at all from Fianna Fail until they've inspected the SDLP's carcass. Besides, after Mark Durkan knifed Bertie days before the citizenship referendum last June by siding with Sinn Féin, there are few in Fianna Fail who would cross the road to help the SDLP.

Or maybe you think Fianna Failers don't bear grudges?

Just one more reason why the Unionists should accept reality and learn to deal with Sinn Féin.


At 7:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

FF blocked attempts to organise in NI by their grassroots for 76 years until the 2002 Ard Fheis. FF wouldn't initiate such a change unless they were contemplating moving forward.

Feeney is right in two respects.

1. There won't be a FF/SDLP merger. Should FF organise its NI membership a mass defection will happen overnight. Take this statement from PJ Bradley on the SDLP website!:

"I stated that in the context of peaceful developments towards and into a united Ireland, I could envisage major political realignments which might include a Fianna Fail/SDLP axis at some point; that I had grown up in a tradition in which De Valera and the principles of Fianna Fail were held in great esteem, and I would not have a problem with such a hypothetical realignment in ten years or so."

FFers don't want to inherit Liberal/Left SDLP activists in Derry & Belfast. FF will provide a home for rural Catholic Nationalists such a PJ Bradley, Patsy McGlone & Joe Byrne.

2. FF won't stand at Westminster elections. FF at present has a HQ member of staff whose sole job is NI recruitment. Initially when FF organises it will poach a sizable portion of SDLP & independent cllrs along with a few MLAs. Some cllrs will go on to be FF assembly candidates while new candidates can be drawn from amongst the middle class on a centre right Republican agenda as opposed to SF's centre left Republicanism. FF will not take seats at Westminster. Its position is the same as SF's.
It can imitatate the Old Nationalist Party stance as regards Westminster and back joint abstentionist candidates.

As for the remainder of the SDLP I assume it will merge into the joint British/Irish Labour organisation that is being established in NI.

The SDLP as we know it is finished


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