A senior Irish government member of Fianna Fail has said his party will enter future elections in Northern Ireland.
Currently Sinn Fein is the only party to take part in elections across Ireland, but that could be about to change.
Following Fianna Fail’s official Northern Ireland launch in Downpatrick on Saturday, Dermot Ahern said he believed his party would ultimately have political representation here.
Mr Ahern — who is the Dublin government’s Minister for Justice — said: “A lot of people spoke last night with a passion about how we can reach out to all sections of the community in the North and across the island and those people will not be satisfied with just a forum,” he said.
“They will want, in my view, and I think it’s the view of our strategy committee, ultimately to have some representation, I would envisage, over time.
“But I stress that this is a long-term process.”
Last Wednesday the Belfast Telegraph revealed Fianna Fail — the largest political party in Ireland — was to be officially launched north of the border on Saturday.
Mr Ahern — whose constituency is the border county of Louth — and fellow government minister Éamon Ó Cuív took part in the forum at the Denvir Hotel.
It is believed to be the first in a series of such events scheduled for Northern Ireland.
Earlier this year Fianna Fail members voted unanimously to adopt a motion to formally establish branches in every county in Northern Ireland.
The party currently has associations at Queen's University and in south Armagh.
A party spokeswoman said the Downpatrick forum did not constitute a party branch but was an informal grouping of people interested in or sympathetic to Fianna Fail.
Items discussed included North-South relations, the all-Ireland economic agenda and recruitment of new members.
The Fianna Fail spokeswoman also denied that the party planned to run in the next Westminster election and in the Assembly and local government elections expected to take place in 2011.
Sinn Fein said it was not concerned by the news of Fianna Fail’s launch in Northern Ireland.
Meanwhile, SDLP leader Mark Durkan has called on all parties to come together again to discuss the issue of Irish unity.
He said: “We have to recognise that approval for unity must not only come from the North but in the South too. And we have to persuade unionists that we have a serious vision that does not threaten them and that we are serious about sitting down together.
“We must reassure unionists that our vision of unity is not one connived out of threat or defiance. That our 21st century vision for unity is not just about righting wrongs or addressing grievances, it is about our sense of destiny and purpose.
“Therefore, I repeat my call to all parties to return if not to the forum for peace and reconciliation then to a similar forum that addresses this business.”