Fianna Fail and SDLP announce 'partnership' as they criticise Sinn Fein and the DUP

Fianna Fáil and the SDLP have announced a planned “partnership” and are developing joint policy proposals on Brexit and uniting Ireland’s people.

The arrangement falls far short of a mooted merger and Fianna Fáil will not run its own candidates in Northern Ireland.

However, Micheál Martin didn’t rule out such a merger in the future when pressed on the issue saying “I don’t have a crystal ball”.

Speaking in Belfast this morning, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and SDLP leader Colum Eastwood both hit out at Sinn Féin and the DUP as they announced the arrangement in Belfast this morning.

With no Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive for two years, Mr Martin argued that “Sinn Fein and the DUP took us from a situation where there was genuine public enthusiasm about devolved government, to one where the public has grown cynical about institutions”.

Mr Eastwood said that the reckless bombing in his own city of Derry last weekend have “underlined the fragility with which we are all now living”.

He warned that political vacuums in Northern Ireland “never end well” and it’s a “disgrace that our people have been asked to live with it for this long”.

He said that the partnership with Fianna Fáil seeks to deliver an alternative to what he claimed is a “record of mismanagement, incompetence and inertia delivered by the DUP and Sinn Féin.”

Mr Martin noted that it’s 21 years since the Good Friday Agreement, and it’s achievements have been “immense and deserve to be celebrated”.

He said that unfortunately today there is a deep and pervasive crisis which is “causing far too many people to lose faith in politics”.

He said this crisis has been made worse by Brexit and the fact that it’s been two years since the institutions collapsed leaving Northern Ireland without a voice “at the very moment that its future is at the centre of international debate”.

Mr Martin claimed that the Dublin and London governments have had a “failed policy” of “just let them get on with it” when it comes to the institutions in the North.

He continued: “added to this has been Brexit – an issue which has taken Europe from being a force for unity in Northern Ireland to a divisive and sectarian one with the largest parties using it to promote their own priorities and not those of the people.”

Mr Martin pointed to the involvement of Fianna Fáil and the SDLP in the peace process and said they have “shared much and have achieved much”

He said they share an understanding of the need for a “new agenda” which rebuilds trust in achieving progress.

According to Mr Martin, there is “overwhelming admiration for the SDLP for its “its bravery, vision and leadership at critical moments”.

He said: “It is a non-sectarian party which has proven time and again that it puts people before politics” and “its heroes are our heroes.

“That is why we are very happy to agree the partnership which is being announced today.”

Mr Martin said: “Our absolute focus will be on trying to reinvigorate the agenda for shared peace and prosperity on this island.”

Mr Eastwood said his party’s discussions with Fianna Fáil began in response to “deepening division and crisis” in politics including the Brexit referendum result and the collapse of the Northern Ireland institutions.

He said the partnership is a common proposal on how to respond.

He said that former SDLP leader John Hume and the late Taosieach Seán Lemass remain the intellectual heart of both parties.

He said both understood the core choice of Irish politics – “we either repeat our history or we seek to renew and remedy it”.

Mr Eastwood said the values of those two “political giants” are more relevant and more important than ever.

He conceded that the partnership may be uncomfortable to some in both the SDLP and Fianna Fáil but said: “unlike some political parties, I respect and value healthy discussion and disagreement.

“This is a big change and a big step in the history of both of our parties and such change is never easy.”

He said he will bring the partnership before the SDLP membership for its final say.

Mr Eastwood said the two parties will “work in partnership in an unprecedented programme of public engagement”.

There are to be three themes of the partnership – ‘A politics that works’; ‘Better Public Services’ and ‘Uniting Ireland’s People’.

Policy proposals are to be prepared on economic development; Brexit; “the Unity of our People”; health, education; housing and reforming institutions.

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