The DUP has hit back at Joe Brolly after the Gaelic football pundit claimed the party had "squandered" the opportunity to make Northern Ireland work and had increased the chance of a united Ireland.
The Belfast-based barrister told The Irish News that nationalists in Northern Ireland are now “psychologically wedded” to becoming part of a united Ireland in part because of the DUP’s policies and actions.
He also said the party should have championed an Irish language act to show they could reach out beyond their base.
The DUP said Mr Brolly loved a "controversial stunt" to generate headlines.
“They’ve blown it," Mr Brolly said.
"Any opportunity for a pluralist Northern Ireland has been squandered and deeper down this wouldn’t have been the case at the time of the Good Friday Agreement.
“Deeper down now, the Catholic people of the north say: ‘Well, look, it’s a united Ireland now. That’s where we are and that’s where we’re moving to now’.
“Psychologically, I think the DUP has played a huge role in creating that because they really did make it a cold house for Catholics.
“And there was no need for it. [In relation to an Irish Language Act], they should have been saying: ‘Of course, there will be an Irish Language Act because it’s very important to a lot of people in this community and that it’s a vibrant language in some parts of the north. Of course we want to facilitate that and protect that,’ and get out there and to be seen publicly supporting it.
“That’s a civilised society. That’s what a peace process is, and that’s what it should look like. So they’ve screwed that up.”
DUP Upper Bann MLA Jonathan Buckley said: “Joe Brolly loves a controversial stunt to generate headlines. In the 2001 General Election pro-united Ireland parties secured 42% of the vote in NI.
"In the December 2019 General Election pro-united Ireland parties secured 38% of the vote in NI. But Joe won’t let the facts get in the way of a headline.
"Unionists should be working to make Northern Ireland feel like home for everyone regardless if they have a British, Irish or Northern Irish identity.”
Mr Brolly said he has detected a “distinct change of attitude” beyond nationalist communities towards the DUP.
“I detect it all the time, about the DUP, the Old Testament sort of stuff, the inhumane stuff that they espouse, it is no longer acceptable,” he said.
Mr Brolly also hit out at the DUP’s stance on Brexit and the “inevitable errors” they made in the party’s dealings with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and predecessor Theresa May - which critics have said bring the future of the union into serious doubt.
“They don’t have any long-term strategy, they are more an emotional movement than they are a political party, and that emotional movement is something that we know only too well – that triumphalism, treating you as inferior, that Arlene Foster-Jim Allister style: looking down their noses at people. And it’s not acceptable,” he said.
“And these losers who are recruited by the DUP, because they’re tub-thumpers and they’ll get elected, increasingly the unionist community has got to be saying: ‘We’ve got to be doing better, we’ve got to do better’.
“Increasingly, people of talent are going to emerge who see a pluralist, sensible, civilised future and will work towards that.”
Despite the return of power sharing in Northern Ireland, Mr Brolly feels it will not stop Catholics and the nationalist community from working towards a united Ireland.
Mr Brolly, who featured in Derry’s 1993 All-Ireland winning team, said the DUP have been “neutered and left powerless” following the general election and that the party had no choice but to reenter powersharing after the Conservative Party secured a large majority in the general election.