By Aoife Moore
Political parties Fianna Fail and the SDLP are poised to announce a closer partnership later this week.
Talks of an ultimately one all-island party, which will be called Fianna Fail, have been on the horizon since Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin announced his intention to move the party into the North in 2014.
The plan for the partnership was agreed at a private meeting of the Fianna Fail parliamentary party on Tuesday evening, and it is understood senior SDLP figures will be briefed in the coming days, ahead of a further announcement on Thursday.
However, Fianna Fail sources on Tuesday night downplayed suggestions of a total merger.
"We would not be willing to confirm anything at this stage.
"Anything that has been reported has not come from an official party source," a spokeswoman said.
One SDLP representative told the Press Association that a large majority of the party and its membership had been left in the dark over the plans.
They said: "I feel all members of a party should be treated with respect, and kept up to date with the party they belong to instead of finding out what could potentially be major announcements through the media.
"As far as I know, MLAs will be briefed on Wednesday ahead of the public announcement on Thursday.
"What that final announcement will be, I don't know, so members of the party should reserve judgment until then."
In November last year, Mr Martin said: "I think in terms of political ideology and narrative, there are many similarities between us and the SDLP." And he added that talks between the two had been "steady and substantive".
In October, Mr Martin's party was caught in controversy in Omagh, when senior party figures unveiled a Fianna Fail "candidate" for next year's Northern Ireland local council election without the approval of the leadership.
Party colleagues accused Eamon O Cuiv and Mark Daly, who said they were acting as Sorcha McAnespy's campaign managers, of embarking on a "solo run".
Mr O Cuiv, who was front-bench spokesman for Regional Development, Rural Affairs and the Gaeltacht, was demoted by party leader Mr Martin.
The move was announced a day after Senator Mr Daly was stripped of his duties as Fianna Fail deputy leader in the Seanad for his role in the unsanctioned event in Omagh.