By Eamon Sweeney

An email circulated to SDLP members over an anticipated merger between them and Fianna Fail says the scale of the overall political challenges facing everyone this year means “continuing on as normal is not an option.”

The email was circulated to the SDLP membership in recent days amidst reports that an announcement of a merger of some sort with Fianna Fail could come before the end of January.

Concerns have been expressed from within the SDLP that the anticipated link-up is more of a Fianna Fail ‘takeover’ as opposed to a partnership or merger. The northern nationalist party’s youth wing has also baulked against a match-up of any description.

Last week,  SDLP leader Colum Eastwood told the Derry News:”We are in talks that will be finalised soon. The membership will have the final say.”

However, he would not be drawn on providing any more details of the apparently forthcoming political accord.

Other SDLP sources have however dismissed suggestions that any deal would be a ‘partnership’ and added that the party would contest the upcoming local authority elections in Northern Ireland under their own banner and not a Fianna Fail one.

However, the email circulated in recent days and signed by both Colum Eastwood and SDLP Deputy Leader Nicola Mallon uses the word ‘partnership’ when speaking of recent talks between both parties.

The full text of the email obtained by the Derry News says: "Dear Friends,

Let us begin by wishing you all a very happy New Year. We hope you had peaceful Christmas break and had time to spend it with your family and friends.

“We know the many and deep challenges that await us in 2019. These islands face the biggest socio-political challenge partition in the form of Brexit. Businesses, farmers and people right across our communities are left voiceless at a time of great uncertainty. The absence of the power sharing institutions has left our people powerless, leaving our society stuck in a cycle of division and failure.

“This is the seriousness of the context which we have been left to confront.

“In order to end this dangerous vacuum, in order to break the cycle of the last two years, it is clear that we need to be willing to embrace change. Continuing as normal is not an option.

“That change will require us to stretch us beyond our comfort zones. It will require us to think and act creatively and courageously. However, we also absolutely acknowledge that considering that change won’t be comfortable for some and we entirely respect that position.

“Since our foundation the SDLP has led much of the political advancement that Ireland has experienced. We are not prepared to stand aside and allow others to shape a future in their own narrow image. We want to be leaders of that change again across the entire island.

“However, as a party it is our responsibility to stretch ourselves beyond our comfort zone.

“It is this broader context on the island and the ongoing crisis in our politics which has led us to explore co-operation and partnership with Fianna Fail. Our discussions have been based on how best to meet the challenges of Brexit, how best to restore the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement and how best to ensure that our values of reconciliation and the unity of our people can once again enter into the lifeblood of our politics.

“These talks have been discussed, sanctioned and supported by our MLA team, our Councillors Association and at our Management Committee.

“These talks are coming to a conclusion and we will of course share with you any proposal which emanates from them. We have been clear, the future of the SDLP will be decided by you, the party, our membership.

“Any fundamental change which we recommend in terms of the future of this party will be brought to you.

“2019 is a time of great challenge and we must together rise to that challenge to deliver a New Ireland for all of our citizens. We look forward to working with you and thank you for your continued support.”

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