Sinn Fein will continue to campaign for a united Ireland - even if the majority of people vote against the concept in a border poll.
The party’s Francie Molloy, who is currently in the running for the Mid Ulster Parliamentary constituency seat in the by-election due to take place next week, said the issue is one the party will never drop “whatever the results of a border poll”.
In a live webchat with News Letter readers the Stormont Assembly member - who said he is confident of regaining the seat - added he thinks Unionists should embrace the idea, in contrast to the position they currently hold in London.
“Unionism should see itself as a sizeable number on the island of Ireland and be part of a coalition government of the future, instead of being a tiny minority at Westminster.”
“I feel that not only do the majority of Catholics want to join a united Ireland but that many Protestants given the opportunity in a non-confrontational way, would actually see that their best interests lie within an Irish Republic.”
Molloy, who will compete for Martin McGuinness’ seat against Unionist unity candidate Nigel Lutton, the SDLP’s Patsy McGlone and Eric Bullick of the Alliance party, moved to reassure Unionists that the party have well and truly left ‘the conflict’ behind them.
“I would say to anyone who has doubts about the conflict returning, that the conflict is in the past, we have a new political agenda and we have a mandate to build for the future. We want to engage with unionists to allay their fears and to build trust for the future, to build reconciliation, and to include them in our plans for the management of the change to a united Ireland.”
In reference to a claim made using parliamentary privilege, that he was in some way linked to the IRA murder of Mr Lutton’s father in 1979, the Sinn Fein man again dismissed the allegation.
“With regards to allegations in Westminster I refute them completely. I don’t know the source but I have challenged David Simpson to make those allegations outside of the security of Westminster and I will see him in court.”
Mr Molloy added that, although he has not met with Mr Lutton as yet, he will likely speak to him on the night of the election.
He said: “Certainly, I have no problem whatsoever in speaking to all candidates. We’re all involved in the political process. I welcome the opportunity to meet with Unionists from all sections to ensure that we can get a better understanding of how the political process is operating.”
Mr Molloy refuted the claim, by Peter Robinson late last year, that Nationalism is in disarray with some Catholics even content to vote DUP.
“You can see now where the disarray was and what he was trying to put aside was the concern and disarray within the loyalist and Unionist community. And we’ve had that since, within the flag dispute in Belfast.”
And on the flags issue itself Mr Molloy claimed the PSNI reputation has taken a blow in Nationalist eyes because of how the protests have been handled.
He said the key to addressing the parades issue was dialogue and urged the Orange Order to engage in talks with Sinn Fein.
And on the issue of making public those who donate to political parties in Northern Ireland, Mr Molloy disagreed with Peter Robinson’s suggestion that security concerns remain over doing so.
“We have nothing to hid, no particular problem,” he said. “I think it’s only a short time away (until donors are publicised). There’s no justification as to why parties are opposed (to making donations public). Sinn Fein had as many security concerns in the past as any party could have. But I think those days are over. I don’t think there’s any reason at this point in time to hide behind that secrecy.”