Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams was tonight told he was being delusional if he believed republicans were on course to achieve their goal of a united Ireland.
The claim was made by Democratic Unionist Assembly member Simon Hamilton after Mr Adams announced plans to set up a taskforce in Sinn Féin to work on a campaign to reunify Ireland.
The West Belfast MP told Sinn Féin members in his leader’s address at their annual conference in Dublin yesterday: “I believe that we are closer to bringing about Irish re-unification than at any time in our past.
“Despite ingrained partitionism within the Irish establishment, there is growing support for Irish unity and there is a growing awareness of the importance of the all-Ireland economy to this nation’s future.”
He also urged party colleagues to work with the Irish diaspora in the United States and across the world in the run-up to the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising on a campaign to achieve Irish reunification and to engage unionists.
The taskforce will involve Stormont junior minister Gerry Kelly, MEP Bairbre de Brun and Kerry North TD Martin Ferris.
Mr Hamilton, however, insisted Mr Adams was trying to placate Sinn Féin members who were nervous about the strategy deployed by their leadership.
“The truth that Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness are well aware of is that a united Ireland is now nothing more than a dream and that the reality is that the Union is as strong as ever and Sinn Féin are working day in and day out within a partitionist political system at Stormont,” the Strangford Assembly member said.
“Both Adams and McGuinness referred in their speeches to the co-operation between Northern Ireland and the (Irish) Republic.
“The DUP has never opposed working with our nearest neighbour on matters of mutual concern but we were always against the sort of set up the Belfast Agreement brought about where the people of Northern Ireland via their elected representatives at the Assembly had no say whosoever over what went on.
“Now, thanks to the DUP, everything that occurs on a cross-border basis is subject to a unionist veto. Nothing North-South of any nature can happen unless unionists agree to it.
“This is what former Sinn Féin MLA Gerry McHugh meant when he said that unionists are in control at Stormont.
“Is it any wonder that republicans are anxious and their leaders are trying to placate them with a rant of tried and tested rhetoric?
“If Sinn Féin really believes that North-South structures where unionists have a veto are going to deliver Irish unity then they are clutching at straws.”
Mr Hamilton said no-one with any sense of self-respect believed a united Ireland was achievable.
“Growing numbers of the general public of all political persuasions believe that Northern Ireland will remain within the Union and even Irish Government Ministers are forced to acknowledge that the constitutional question has been ’parked’,” he countered.
“Sinn Féin’s delusional diatribe should be viewed in the context of their need to pacify an increasingly uneasy base.”