Eamon Ó Cuív: met supporters in Downpatrick last night

FIANNA FÁIL has taken further tentative steps towards establishing the party in the North with the establishment of a party 'forum' in Co Down last night.

Cabinet ministers Dermot Ahern and Eamon Ó Cuív attended last night's historic meeting in Downpatrick which follows a similar meeting in Crossmaglen, south Armagh, last December.

Despite the party plummeting to an all-time low in last Thursday's Irish Times/MRBI opinion poll, Fianna Fáil is forging ahead with plans to establish a political base in the North and become an 'all-island' party.

However, a spokeswoman for Fianna Fáil told the Sunday Tribune, "These are informal discussion forums being established due to interest in the party in the North, and there is no question of [the party] contesting elections in the foreseeable future in the North."

A motion was passed at the spring 2009 ardfheis 'To establish a Fianna Fáil forum in each county in Northern Ireland in order to facilitate party members in the North who wish to meet and engage with Fianna Fáil public representatives and membership'.

The spokeswoman added, "These discussion forums are being established due to demand and will serve to facilitate interaction between interested people and party members and Fianna Fáil public representatives. They are open to people from all parties and persuasions."

It is understood that yesterday's meeting in Down will be replicated in other Northern counties in coming months as the party attempts to gain a foothold in the North.

Two years ago there was speculation Fianna Fáil would organise in the North through a link-up with the SDLP but that now seems less likely as the party continues to take its own 'baby steps' into the North.