Noel Whelan: Brexit changes everything for Irish politics

Mooted FF-SDLP merger among potential changes for parties as tectonic plates shift

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has approached the issue of a merger with the SDLP with his trademark caution. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has approached the issue of a merger with the SDLP with his trademark caution. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Brexit changes everything. It is worth repeating that mantra over and over again in the months and years to come. The political implications which Brexit gives rise to on the island of Ireland, for example, are already apparent. Even speculation this week about a putative merger between Fianna Fáil and the SDLP has to be analysed in that context.

Since Fianna Fáil suffered electoral collapse in 2011, political scientists have debated the extent to which our party system has been or will be reconfigured. Since the 1930s, electoral competition in Ireland was shaped within a 2½-party system where the battle between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil was the dominant force with Labour as the ‘half party’. That all changed in 2011.

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