Ministers to initiate Fianna Fáil forum in Down


GOVERNMENT MINISTERS Dermot Ahern and Éamon Ó Cuív, are to travel to Downpatrick, Co Down, tomorrow night to initiate a Fianna Fáil “forum”.

The party, however, has insisted it has no intention of contesting any elections in Northern Ireland in the near future.

Some groundwork was carried out in recent years with a view to a formal connection between Fianna Fáil and the SDLP, with proposals that they would run candidates in Northern Ireland elections under a joint banner.

However a Fianna Fáil spokeswoman said that the forum bore no relation to such proposals, and was merely the party carrying out a motion passed at the Fianna Fáil ardfheis in February.

That motion called on the party to establish a “Fianna Fáil forum in every county in Northern Ireland in order to facilitate party members in the North who wish to meet and engage with Fianna Fáil public representatives and members”.

The spokeswoman said the forum would be an “informal grouping” of people interested in or sympathetic to Fianna Fáil, and would not constitute a Fianna Fáil “cumann”. Issues to be discussed would include North-South relations, the all-island economic agenda and recruitment of new members.

The spokeswoman said everyone, including people from other parties, would be welcome to attend the meeting in Denvir’s Hotel in Downpatrick, at 7pm tomorrow.

She said Minister for Justice Mr Ahern and Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Mr Ó Cuív would be happy to take questions from the floor.

One of the advantages for Fianna Fáil of a merger with the SDLP would be that the party could argue it was a truly all-Ireland party, thus, Fianna Fáil proponents of the idea say, putting it in a stronger position to assert its republican credentials and resist the challenge from Sinn Féin in the South.

The perceived advantage for the SDLP would be that it might help restore its fortunes and put it in a better position to battle electorally with Sinn Féin.

The proposal triggered considerable debate and controversy within the SDLP, with the main support for the link-up coming from Border areas in the North.

The matter, however, appeared to be put to rest for the foreseeable future when Taoiseach Brian Cowen last September said Fianna Fáil had indefinitely put off plans to organise in Northern Ireland.

The fact that Mr Ahern is attending the Downpatrick meeting has triggered some speculation that the merger idea is about to be rekindled by Fianna Fáil. The party spokeswoman insisted that this was not the case.

She pointed out that last September the party held a meeting in Crossmaglen to establish an Armagh Fianna Fáil forum in line with the ardfheis motion.

SDLP politicians, such as South Down MP Eddie McGrady and West Belfast Assembly member Alex Attwood, said all talk of a possible merger with Fianna Fáil was “definitely off the agenda” at present.

“I think that Fianna Fáil have got some obligations to people in the North who have expressed an interest, and that is manifest in these fora, but that’s the height of their ambitions, and that’s the way it will remain for a very significant period of time,” said Mr Attwood.