Martin McGuinness has accused unionists of running into a cul de sac over the Union flag dispute.
Political unionism resorted to the failed politics of the lowest common denominator in response to Belfast City Council's decision to restrict the flying of the emblem, the Deputy First Minister claimed.
He was addressing Sinn Fein's ard fheis in Mayo and said unionists should not pretend they were not implementing the Good Friday Agreement.
The Mid Ulster MLA said: "When faced with the recent violence around the flag issue, and indeed in the debate leading up to the decision at Belfast City Hall, instead of returning to the values which underpin the political process many within political unionism resorted to the failed politics of the lowest common denominator.
"Instead of seeking solutions and standing united against violence with the other political parties they turned inward to the inevitable cul de sac of a unionist forum."
He said unionist ministers at times appeared to be in government with Sinn Fein because they felt they had to be.
"Fifteen years on we need to apply the very same political skills and political principles to politics in the here and now if we are to truly harness the great potential that still exists," he said.
"I have no difficulty whatsoever in respecting unionists' allegiance to their Britishness - but it gives me no satisfaction to tell you that there is a marked reluctance by unionist leaders to respect the Irish identity of nationalists and republicans.
"This difficulty goes to the very heart of the failure to resolve contentious Orange parades and the need to ensure that symbols and emblems on the basis of equality reflect the allegiances and identity of the community as a whole."