Fianna Fail, the political party that has dominated politics in the Republic of Ireland for decades, began recruiting university students Tuesday in Northern Ireland its first concrete move into the British territory.
The youth wing of Fianna Fail recruited members for a new “cumann,” or membership club, at the University of Ulster and planned to do the same Wednesday at the other major college in Northern Ireland, Queen’s University of Belfast.
A week ago after Fianna Fail leaders formed a committee of lawmakers to explore the possibility of organizing and running for election in Northern Ireland, a part of the United Kingdom with its own deeply entrenched political culture.
Fianna Fail says moving into Northern Ireland would be a logical, if overdue, expression of the party’s long-stated desire to unite the two parts of Ireland under one government, independent of Britain.
While the province’s Protestant majority wants Northern Ireland to stay British, the Catholic minority supports two homegrown Irish nationalist forces: the hard-liners of Sinn Fein and the moderates of the Social Democratic and Labour Party. Fianna Fail would have to compete with both parties or negotiate a merged ticket with one of them, most likely the moderate SDLP.
Emmet Doyle, the Fianna Fail activist recruiting fellow University of Ulster students, said 41 signed up Tuesday at an event for freshmen double the number required by university rules for a political society to be formed. He said Fianna Fail recruited more students than Sinn Fein at the event, which took place at the university’s campus in Londonderry, a predominantly Catholic city that borders the Irish Republic.
Analysts say Fianna Fail is keen to build a northern base to counter Republic of Ireland efforts by Sinn Fein, which currently is the only nationalist party organized throughout the island. Sinn Fein helps run the 4-month-old coalition government in Northern Ireland but has made little headway in the south, where it holds just five seats in the 166-seat parliament.
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