Former MLA Danny Kennedy has said it is “unrealistic at this stage” to think that the various factions within unionism could unite to form a single party.
However, he has called for “greater co-operation” between the parties in the wake of last week’s disastrous result for unionism.
Mr Kennedy was one of the big name casualties in the recent Assembly election, losing his Newry and Armagh seat for the first time in two decades.
Sinn Fein’s resurgence in the snap poll saw the party close the gap with the DUP to just one seat, and significantly, for the first time in Northern Ireland’s history there is no unionist majority at Stormont.
Speaking to the News Letter, Mr Kennedy said there now needs to be a conversation within unionism about the way forward.
“It is time to open up dialogue between the unionist parties, to have some meaningful discussion and debate about where to go from here,” he added.
“We have to see what everyone’s position is and then take it from there.”
When asked if he would like to see the various unionist parties come together, Mr Kennedy responded: “I think it is probably optimistic at this time to think of a single party for unionism. That is not realistic at this stage for a variety of reasons.
“What I want to see is greater co-operation, and some dialogue between the parties is a good starting point.”
Speaking on BBC’s The View programme on Thursday, Mr Kennedy said: “(To) everyone in the house of unionism, I think there’s now a duty to open the connecting doors which have been locked between the various factions... the various interests within unionism.
“It’s time to unlock those doors and to allow a deep conversation and a genuine assessment as to where we are.”
However he added that he did not believe the Union was in any danger, adding:“I think in any referendum a majority of the population will still vote to remain part of the UK, but I think we do need a conversation within unionism as to how best we now move forward.”