Here’s a New Year prediction – Fianna Fáil’s SDLP takeover won’t work

Posted By: January 02, 2019

Brian Feeney. Irish News. Belfast. January 2, 2019

Big headlines about a Fianna Fáil/SDLP ‘merger’ in the new year. Here’s one prediction for 2019: it won’t work.

For a start, it wouldn’t be a merger; it’s a Fianna Fáil takeover, and the SDLP goes out of existence. That’s reminiscent of Dorothy Parker’s famous comment when she was told President Coolidge was dead. ‘How could they tell?’, she asked.

The truth is that the SDLP is moribund and its leadership has decided to slip the party into a shroud. Joining Fianna Fáil is simply a way of allowing SDLP councilors and MLAs to continue a political existence. After the takeover, candidates standing in The North will fool no one by calling themselves Fianna Fáil. They’ll be asking people to vote for the same SDLP men and women wearing a different rosette.

If Fianna Fáil goes ahead with this project, and don’t forget we’ve been here before – several times – it’s for the party’s own reasons and nothing to do with preserving vestiges of the SDLP or its ‘legacy.’ It’s because Fianna Fáil can’t stand by and watch Sinn Féin have The North all to itself, and laugh at Fianna Fáil’s self-proclaimed sub-title, ‘the Republican party.’ Before Fianna Fáil can organize in The North, they have to kill off the SDLP. Otherwise, only Sinn Féin would benefit. You couldn’t have Fianna Fáil competing with the SDLP. Apart from anything else, where would Fianna Fáil’s candidates come from but SDLP retreads?

Micheál Martin, the pathological prevaricator, has still not decided whether to complete the funeral rites and burial of the SDLP before May’s council elections. He has dithered so long and left it so late the danger is that Sinn Féin would wallop the new party in May and leave Martin with egg on his face in the Dáil when he pontificates about The North where he represented a defeated party.

We’re told a first step will be to agree on policies before an announcement at the Fianna Fáil ard fheis in February. We’ve been told that before too. Think of last August when the announcement was to be September. Agreeing on those policies should be fun. Micheál Martin is in an advanced state of paranoia about Sinn Féin gradually eating away Fianna Fáil’s support base in The South. On the face of it, therefore, taking on the mantle of the SDLP shouldn’t be a problem because it seems the SDLP’s current reason for existence is only to criticize Sinn Féin.

However, at present, the SDLP’s policies are a pale green version of Sinn Féin’s. SDLP support a Border poll which Martin doesn’t. They support Acht na Gaeilge which Martin thinks is a Sinn Féin Trojan horse. The SDLP is all over the place on abortion and same-sex marriage. Anyone standing on a Fianna Fáil ticket would have to support the present legislation in the Republic on both matters as Sinn Féin does. In short, a Fianna Fáil takeover of the SDLP would make Fianna Fáil sound more like Sinn Féin on northern affairs – the last thing Martin wants.

Martin faces other problems: organization and finance in The North. The SDLP has neither. Across large swathes of The North, there are no SDLP members, no canvassers, no constituency organization, and after the disaster of the 2017 election, no money. What are hard-pressed Fianna Fáil TDs and councilors in The South going to think of sending money north to support people who the voters have rejected?

Perhaps it would all be different if Fianna Fáil were in government in Dublin, but Micheál Martin has just completed a deal to keep Varadkar in power until 2020. On present showing, Martin will not be able to close the gap to enable him to unseat Varadkar at the next election. Certainly not without a sizeable coalition partner, and the one partner he won’t contemplate is Sinn Féin. Yet Sinn Féin represents 71 percent of northern nationalists, and with Martin as leader, blindly prejudiced against Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil has got it consistently wrong on The North in recent years.

It’s difficult to see how taking on the lifeless body of the SDLP will help him to avoid what looks to be his fate; the only Fianna Fáil leader never to be Taoiseach.