Belfast Telegraph

Tom Elliott: Talk of united Ireland more wistful thinking by Gerry Adams

By Noel McAdam

Unionists have brushed aside claims by Gerry Adams that the Assembly elections have advanced the cause of a united Ireland.

Calling for discussions to begin on how an end to partition can be achieved, the Sinn Fein president said Brexit also provided an opportunity for a discourse on how the "transition period" is managed.

Mr Adams warned political unionism would try to regroup, so the gains of republicans in last week's election - now just one seat behind the DUP in the Assembly, 28 to 27 - must be consolidated and increased.

He said the DUP "no longer rule the roost. We must respect their mandate. But they also have to respect all the other mandates. All the other opinions".

His comments came as his party's ruling executive prepared to meet in Dublin today to discuss the election and the negotiations to restore devolution, which resume on Monday.

But Ulster Unionist MP Tom Elliott referred to previous claims by Mr Adams that Ireland would be united by 2016, saying his latest comments were more of the same fantasies.

Writing on his blog, Mr Adams said: "I believe absolutely that Irish unity is the best outcome for all the people of this island. Sinn Fein will work to achieve that. But in the meantime there is a need to co-operate with other progressives to create real changes in people's lives.

"Brexit is the backcloth against which some of these changes are occurring. In the farming sector, unionist farmers know that their best interests will not be served by Brexit despite the DUP support for this.

"Business people and the community and voluntary sector share these concerns.

"There is the potential for a progressive consensus among parties like Sinn Fein, the SDLP, Alliance, the Greens, People Before Profit and individual MLAs who have advocated equality measures."

In a separate interview on what he called a "watershed" election, Mr Adams said unionists were still in the majority but the "big onus" on his party was to persuade them their best interests lay in a united Ireland.

"We need an entirely new Ireland, we need an Ireland which unionism is comfortable with, that they have an ownership of and that they agree to," he said.

"It's not exactly tangible, it's a sense of expectation, a sense of hope, a sense of 'do-abilty'."

Asked if he now envisaged a united Ireland in his lifetime, the 68-year-old Louth TD said: "It depends how long I live, but my hope is - yes."

But Mr Elliott said: "Gerry Adams's comments come as no surprise, and should be filed under 'he would say that, wouldn't he?'"

The Fermanagh-South Tyrone MP went on to say the Union was secure.

"This is the same Gerry Adams who said in January 2000 'if we want to make progress then there is no reason whatsoever… why we cannot celebrate the 1916 Rising in the year 2016, in a free and united Ireland'.

"That date has now obviously passed and Northern Ireland is still in the United Kingdom.

"I am in no doubt that the Union is secure and that the majority of people in Northern Ireland remain firmly of the opinion that the United Kingdom remains far and away the best option for Northern Ireland and its people in social, political and economic terms."

Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson added: "Some - including Sinn Fein - are trying to say the Belfast Agreement would be undermined by Brexit.

"This is simply not the case.

"The Belfast Agreement cannot be cherry-picked.

"It enshrined the principle of consent, which means that Northern Ireland is an integral part of the United Kingdom for as long as its people want it to remain so."

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