There could be a united Ireland by 2016, Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness predicted tonight.
With nine days left to Northern Ireland’s Assembly Election, the Mid Ulster MP said at his party’s manifesto launch republicans could attain their goal by the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising.
“As we develop the north-south implementation bodies and people co-operate and work together, I think people will see more and more the logic of that,” Mr McGuinness said.
“Certainly it is our view that it can be accomplished over a short period. Gerry Adams has said 2016 and I think that is achievable.”
Sinn Fein’s manifesto called on the Irish Government to produce a Green Paper soon on unity.
The party also vowed to:
:: Create more cross-border implementation bodies on policing, justice, agriculture, rural development, the social economy, pollution control, mental health, further and higher education, communications infrastructure and energy.
:: Secure representation in the Oireachtas (the Irish Houses of Parliament) and voting rights for people in Northern Ireland in Irish Presidential elections.
Mr McGuinness’s united Ireland prediction was challenged by unionists.
The Democratic Unionist MP for North Belfast Nigel Dodds reacted: “Sinn Féin will not be getting their united Ireland.
“The unionist people will stand steadfast.
“The Sinn Féin manifesto is another wish list of concessions to republicans but many unionists will be saying: Haven’t they had enough concessions? When is it all going to end?”
Ulster Unionist David McNarry dismissed Mr McGuinness’s comments as a “pipe dream”.
“My children’s grandchildren won’t even see a united Ireland,” the Strangford Assembly candidate said.
“Catholics I am talking to on the doorsteps aren’t interested and many are voting unionist.
“The recent census figures dashed any republican hopes of a united Ireland. It would be more honest for them to tell their supporters that they are working for peace here and have ended their armed struggle to achieve a unitary state.”
Sinn Féin continued to clash tonight with the rival SDLP over the issue of how their supporters should vote in the proportional representation election.
With transfers between candidates down the ballot paper likely to determine the final seats in Northern Ireland’s 18 constituencies, Sinn Féin chairman Mitchel McLaughlin said his party wanted to maximise the nationalist vote.
However, he accused the SDLP of turning its back on a nationalist voting pact.
“We have always argued that we should maximise the nationalist vote,” the Foyle Assembly candidate said.
“We would have preferred a formal voting pact with the SDLP but we have been rebuffed every time we have offered that.”
Martin McGuinness also criticised the SDLP, insisting he had not heard his nationalist rivals encouraging their supporters to transfer to Sinn Féin.
However, the SDLP’s director of elections Bríd Rodgers denied there had been any formal offer of a voting pact.
She said: “Sinn Féin never offered a voting pact. They said to us they were thinking about discussing the possibility of a voting pact with the SDLP.
“So it is clear what people must do if they want to protect the Agreement and beat the DUP in key constituencies and that is vote SDLP or transfer to us.
“Sinn Féin is at sixes and sevens about where they stand on the issue of pro-Agreement transfers and are putting the Agreement in jeopardy when they have Gerry Adams urging people not to transfer to (SDLP chairman) Alex Attwood in West Belfast.
“The SDLP is very clear where it stands, advising supporters to transfer to pro-Agreement candidates in their constituencies, including Sinn Fein.”