The Ulster Unionist Party has attacked Sinn Fein for hypocrisy over the 1998 Belfast Agreement.
John Stewart MLA was responding to comments by Sinn Fein’s president, Mary Lou McDonald TD, in which she said she hoped Julian Smith would be the last UK secretary of state for Northern Ireland, and handed him a copy of the Belfast Agreement.
Mr Stewart said: “The comments of Mary Lou McDonald on Friday demonstrate clearly that Sinn Fein don’t understand the Belfast Agreement and don’t care about insulting unionists, in spite of what they might say about ‘rights and respect’.
“After meeting the new Secretary of State Julian Smith, she was said to have asked him about the ‘threshold’ for calling a poll on Irish reunification and told him she hoped he would be ‘the last British secretary of state’.
“Perhaps if she says it often enough she might even be able to persuade herself that she believes it to be true, but she is fooling nobody else.”
Mr Stewart added: “As a unionist, that is what I would expect a republican to say, but she joins the latest in a long line of Sinn Fein politicians and Irish republicans who are detached from reality. I can recall Gerry Adams predicting Irish unity by 2016, and look how that worked out.
“The Sinn Fein leader also presented the new secretary of state with a copy of the Belfast Agreement. She might have been better off keeping it, because if recent comments are anything to go by, clearly a lot of her party colleagues haven’t read – or certainly haven’t understood – the section which guarantees the principle of consent and Northern Ireland’s constitutional status as part of the United Kingdom, for as long as a majority of the people who live here wish.
“Rather than engage in soundbites and rhetoric designed to persuade the Sinn Fein base that all is still on track, Sinn Fein would be better served by dropping red lines and getting Stormont back to work, so that local politicians can begin to tackle the massive problems facing our health service and our children’s education in particular.”
Meanwhile, Ms McDonald said an all-Ireland forum on Irish unity should be convened without delay.
Momentum is building around the constitutional shift and there should be political, institutional and legislative arrangements in place to manage that, the Sinn Fein president added.
On Friday, Irish premier Leo Varadkar said moderate unionists and nationalists could be spurred to consider a united Ireland if there is a no-deal Brexit but it would be provocative for his government to begin making preparations now.
Ms McDonald said: “The taoiseach must make clear that in the event of no-deal Brexit that Irish unity is the solution to averting a hard border on our island.
“A referendum on unity is expressly provided for in the Good Friday Agreement, an agreement that was endorsed by the people of this island, north and south, overwhelmingly over 20 years ago.
“There is nothing provocative about wanting a united Ireland and the government has a responsibility to lead from the front.”
Mr Varadkar said those uncomfortable with a “nationalistic” Britain which is potentially considering reintroducing the death penalty could join forces to support Irish unity and continued membership of the EU.
He said it would be provocative for the Irish government to take steps towards engineering a united Ireland now and the country simply wants to maintain the status quo.
Ms McDonald said: “There is a momentum building for Irish unity and we need political, institutional and legislative arrangements in place to manage that.
“That preparation must include the convening of an all-Ireland forum on Irish unity without delay.
“With the threat of a crash Brexit now a live prospect, it is irresponsible not to prepare for constitutional change.”