SDLP rules out mergers with parties in the Republic

SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie has ruled out any merger with parties south of the border under her watch, reports Ed Jacobs.

SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie has ruled out any merger with parties south of the border under her watch. In her first speech as party leader to the SDLP’s annual conference in Belfast, she said:

“I have recognised that in the long term there may well be significant political realignment on this island and the SDLP may well be part of it. But we are not at that point yet.

Also, any merger with a major southern Party would effectively mean the end of the SDLP and I believe with that, crucially, the disappearance of the unique brand values we bring to Irish politics. So we have ruled it out for now.”

Her unambiguous statement will seek to put to bed rumours of a potential fusing together of her own party and Fianna Fail.

Ritichie’s predecessor, Mark Durkan, failed to rule out any merger between the two parties during his time as leader, with Fianna’s justice minister in Dublin, Dermot Ahern, explaining last year that his party intended to contest elections across both the Republic and Northern Ireland.

What is more, in 2007 a survey of SDLP members for The Observer found a majority of grassroots party members favoured a merger and following this year’s general election, SDLP Assembly Member, Declan O’Loan said:

“I believe that a major realignment of northern nationalism is now called for and I think that this means the formation of a new single nationalist party.”

Ritchie also sought to distance herself from Sinn Fein following Gerry Adams’s invitation that the two parties could cooperate in specific constituencies during the general election. As police begin an investigation into a bomb attack on police officers investigation a robbery in West Belfast, the SDLP leader said:

“Dissidents aren’t some new social or political phenomena; they are the direct legacy of Sinn Fein’s failed war. When are they going to admit that what is wrong now was always wrong?”

Adding:

“When Gerry Adams asked me to consider an electoral pact with his party I was unimpressed. My new found friend made a speech only a few hours later, in which he attacked the SDLP some 25 times.

“His offer was from start to finish a stunt. And I told him directly – you cannot create a better society in the north by driving people into the sectarian trenches. It was absolutely right to send him packing – next time Gerry, don’t even ask!”

With elections to Stormont next year, the SDLP enter the campaign having held their three seats in the general election albeit with a slightly reduced share of the vote. And the party’s main task between now and next May? As an editorial in the Belfast Telegraph says:

“The SDLP needs more vision and bolder political strokes if it is to capture the imagination, and more important, the votes of those people who can continue to make it a force in the land.

“A change also requires a challenging policy, and an appeal to the younger voters. The SDLP has earned much respect and goodwill since its inception, but like any successful party, it needs continual renewal.

“The challenge facing Margaret Ritchie and her colleagues is to convince even more people today that a vote for the party and its policy will really make a difference.”

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