Northern Ireland

Brian Cowen opens Crossmaglen Fianna Fail office

Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen has travelled to Crossmaglen to open a new office for his party Fianna Fail.

Mr Cowen said he believed he was the first Taoiseach to visit the south Armagh border village, which is seen as staunchly republican.

The party is not formally organised in Northern Ireland; it has forums in Armagh, south Down and Fermanagh, and others are planned in Northern Ireland.

In April, SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie ruled out any Fianna Fail merger.

"Merger with Fianna Fail? Not on my watch," she told the Irish Republic's Labour conference in Galway.

Martin McAllister, chairman of Fianna Fail's Armagh Forum, said: "There are lots of other people in the SDLP who don't hold that view."

Mr McAllister said their objective was "to grow the party in the north" and the fact they were opening an office in Crossmaglen did not mean they were solely targeting the vote of Sinn Fein, which is organised on both sides of the Irish border.

"That would be a very narrow objective; it's a slow process but this is the start of an attempt to organise throughout the six counties," he said.

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