SDLP says reports party may leave stage to clear way for Fianna Fail speculation

The SDLP has said reports the party could make way for Fianna Fail in Northern Ireland are speculation.

However, it acknowledged realignment cannot be ruled out in the future.

Senior SDLP sources told the Belfast Telegraph around 80% of the party supported it "leaving the stage" to clear the way for Fianna Fail.

An SDLP statement said: "Comments from unnamed sources amount to no more than speculation."

The SDLP holds its annual conference in Belfast this weekend.

The party spokesman said: "The SDLP has and will continue to work with all parties across the island in pursuit of the best solutions to protect the interests of all people here.

"As we have always said realignment across the island cannot be ruled out in the future. But our focus remains on working to stop a return to British Direct Rule by restoring devolution to protect the interests of people here through a locally accountable government."

The party lost its Westminster seats in South Down, Foyle and South Belfast following last year's general election.

Its bid for Assembly mandates faced competition from a surge in Sinn Fein support.

Fianna Fail has a confidence and supply arrangement backing the minority Irish Government on key votes.

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