The SDLP and Fianna Fail are set to make announcement in Belfast today regarding future co-operation between both parties.
After months of speculation that a full blown merger between the nationalist parties was on the cards, it now appears likely the long awaited political arrangement has been distilled down to areas of 'common principle' and a 'stronger inter-party relationship' within the context of a 'shared policy platform.'
Private talks between SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and Fianna Fail leader Michael Martin regarding the establishment of an official relationship of some form are said to have been ongoing since last summer.
On Tuesday at a meeting of the SDLPs management committee, Mr Eastwood briefed party members and MLAs on the talks. It was apparently made clear that SDLP election candidates will be standing under their own banner and that a 'partnership' as opposed to a merger, was at the heart of the inter-party discussions.
The SDLP are also due to hold a special party conference in February to vote on the 'formalised partnership.'An email circulated to SDLP members last night said: "As you will be aware talks between the SDLP and Fianna Fail have now come to a conclusion. "The party will hold a Special Conference on Saturday 9 February 2019 at the Canal Court Hotel, Newry to present the proposals to the party membership. You will receive further information in due course."
It is also understood that SDLP party branches were to receive further information on the developments yesterday in advance of today's announcement.
Local government elections are scheduled to take place in Northern Ireland on Thursday, May 2 this year.
While the SDLP has officially endorsed some candidates for May's local authority contest, including in Derry’s wider neighbouring constituency of West Tyrone, the Derry News understands that none of the incumbent eight SDLP councillors in the city have yet been informed when local party selection conventions will take place.
Yesterday, senior SDLP sources in the city were remaining tightlipped about the contents of today's announcement.
But, one party source told the Derry News they would not speak in speculative terms about the content of the arrangement until it is made official today, but even then they 'would not be making a lot of comment on it.'
This is perhaps an indication of the serious and publicly expressed dissatisfaction over the political arrangement with Fianna Fail from senior party figures such as Claire Hanna MLA as well as the SDLPs youth wing.
Fianna Fail also held a party briefing on the situation on Tuesday night. In the wake of that meeting it is now certain that the party will not field candidates in northern council elections this year.
However, it has emerged that Fianna Fail may send party workers across the border to canvas for SDLP candidates in the forthcoming northern electoral contest.
The possibility of a co-joining of the SDLP and Fianna Fail has been the subject of speculation for more than four years. In 2014, Fianna Fail leader Michael Martin announced his intention to stake an official party presence in the north.
And, last year Mr Martin said: "I think in terms of political ideology and narrative, there are many similarities between us and the SDLP."
Today's announcement may well also contain a desire by both parties to establish co-operation on cross border policy as the prospect of a no deal Brexit looms ever closer.
Yesterday, Lisa Chambers Fianna Fail Spokesperson on Brexit did not rule out the possibility of her party fielding candidates in future northern elections.
"I certainly wouldn't rule it out. It is something that is an ambition of the party in the future, but at this point in time for the party we feel it's the right move and it's still a positive step. So, we are excited about that and we are excited to move further into Northern Ireland politics and certainly wouldn't rule out candidates in the future," she said.
However, the northern representative on Fianna Fail's National Executive has now confirmed that despite speculation, she will not stand as an SDLP candidate in May's local elections.
Sorcha McAnespy, an Independent Councillor in Omagh who is also a Fianna Fail member, was caught in up controversy last autumn when two senior Fianna Fail figures endorsed her candidacy on their party ticket for May's council election without permission from the party's hierarchy.
Eamon O'Cuiv TD, grandson of Eamon de Valera, and Senator Mark Daly were dismissed from Fianna Fail's front bench as result of their actions.
Ms McAnespy, a former Sinn Fein councillor, will now stand in the local authority election as an independent after Fianna Fail took the decision not to field northern candidates.
She told the Derry News: "I won't be running as SDLP candidate. I have been approached by the SDLP in the past, but it's just not my politics.
"I am a little disappointed as I would have like to have seen Fianna Fail come into the north, not in some sort of major way but to begin slowly with a few candidates on the ground. I have said that before."
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