South Down FF supporters to consider party branch
FIANNA FÁIL supporters in South Down are to meet within weeks to consider forming a party association in the constituency.
The move follows a meeting organised by the party in Downpatrick on Saturday attended by Ministers Dermot Ahern and Éamon Ó Cuív and former Ceann Comhairle Rory O’Hanlon.
The meeting attracted about 70 people including current SDLP supporters and a sitting district councillor for the party.
Speaking before the meeting Mr Ó Cuív reflected on his grandfather Eamon de Valera’s electoral connection with Co Down and insisted that Fianna Fáil was interested only in organising in response to local grassroots demand.
Mr Ahern told reporters he was not in competition with the SDLP, that there were no immediate plans for contesting elections and that he had personally canvassed for local SDLP MP Eddie McGrady.
The meeting, which was closed to reporters, heard personal opening addresses by Mr Ó Cuív and Mr Ahern.
However, sources at the meeting confirmed that Mr Ó Cuív elaborated on his conviction that Fianna Fáil was a “bottom-up” organisation, dependent on core local support and did not flourish as a result of directives from party headquarters in Dublin.
Mr Ahern told the meeting that running candidates would be the ultimate objective but was careful to avoid suggestions that such an evolutionary approach represented a threat to the SDLP.
He said the initiative for further Fianna Fáil organisation had to be local and that headquarters would respond to such an initiative.
The meeting also heard that a canvass of party opinion in the Republic had shown members to be very much in favour of organising in the North.
“It wasn’t so much a case of not so much a Fianna Fáil move North as a move back to the North,” said one.
There was a standing ovation for Harvey Bicker, a former South-Down Ulster Unionist, now a member of Fianna Fáil after his speech which addressed “true republicanism” and the spirit of 1798.
It is understood he encouraged Fianna Fáil to adopt a policy driven approach to Northern development and avoid being drawn into simple contest for nationalist votes with other parties.
SDLP councillor Peter Fitzpatrick told the meeting he was personally delighted at the move towards local organisation.
One of the attendees said he was attracted to the meeting because he was “tired of the repetitive headbanging of local parties” and the perceived need for “something more effective”.