SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has said the party is ready to “embrace” change amid reports of a merger between the party and Fianna Fail.
Mr Eastwood made the comments following reports that the two parties are poised for a phased integration in 2019.
In a statement on Monday, Mr Eastwood said: “The incoming year will, no doubt, prove to be challenging for us all. The SDLP is determined to continue to fight for people here. We will continue to argue against Brexit, we will forcefully make the case for a return to Stormont and we will never stop pointing out that we badly need to be represented in every forum.
“With all the political change we are experiencing it is important to point out that we too are ready to embrace change. Since our foundation the SDLP has led much of the political advancement that Ireland has experienced. We want to lead that change again. We are determined to ensure that we are in a position to do so.”
A New Years Message from SDLP Leader @columeastwood:
“The past year has proven to be a turbulent one. The direction of politics on these islands has totally shifted. The old certainties are gone, it is now time to shape the coming change."
— SDLP (@SDLPlive) December 31, 2018
While the SDLP did not respond to requests for comment on Monday, SDLP Youth confirmed its objection to any such merger.
In a tweet the organisation wrote: “We would like to reaffirm our position as carried at our Policy Conference in August 2018: SDLP Youth is against any merger, working arrangement, etc with any party whose values and principles are contradictory to the values and principles of the SDLP.”
We would like to reaffirm our position as carried at our Policy Conference in August 2018: SDLP Youth is against any merger, working arrangement, etc with any party whose values and principles are contradictory to the values and principles of the SDLP.
— SDLP Youth (@SDLPyouth) December 31, 2018
A spokeswoman for Fianna Fail said the party would not be making any comment on the matter.
Irish Labour party leader Brendan Howlin said that his party would “actively support” the SDLP to continue to put a social democratic option to the people of Northern Ireland.
“It is a matter for the membership of the SDLP to chart their future direction. But I am conscious that many in the SDLP feel closer to the Labour tradition than to the conservative nationalism of Fianna Fail,” Mr Howlin said.
He added: “We will actively support our comrades in Northern Ireland to continue to put a social democratic option to the people at elections.
“People in Northern Ireland must be empowered to lead on how to pursue Labour politics, not dictated to by any party from south of the border.
“Rather than Fianna Fail’s secretive and controlling approach, Labour will take our lead from our Northern Irish friends and colleagues.”
In October, senior members of the Fianna Fail party announced Sorcha McAnespy as the party’s first ever candidate to stand in the Northern Ireland local elections.
Galway West TD Eamon O’Cuiv and senator Mark Daly unveiled Ms McAnespy’s candidature at an event in Omagh, Co Tyrone. They were expected to be her joint campaign managers.
However, Fianna Fail headquarters denied it had made any decision about contesting the 2019 Northern Ireland local elections. Both Mr O Cuiv and Mr Daly were sanctioned over launching a candidate without permission.
Established in 1926, Fianna Fail has long claimed to be Ireland’s true republican party.
As a result, it has long faced questions on why it would not contest elections on a 32 county basis.
Negotiations about a possible link-up have been ongoing for some time. If it goes ahead it would mark a significant move in the political landscape on the island as a social democratic party would be aligning with a more conservative one traditionally.