A section of the unionist community could be convinced of the mutual benefits of a united Ireland, according to Sinn Féin MLA Mitchel McLaughlin.
Mr McLaughlin made the claim while delivering a lecture to mark the 30th anniversary of Sinn Féin candidates’ first electoral intervention in Derry in 1982.
More than 200 people attended the talk, which was held in the Sinn Féin constituency office at Rath Mór Business Park on Wednesday evening.
Mr McLaughlin gave an overview of the last 40 years from a republican perspective, beginning with the civil rights era, through to the hunger strikes and the first elections contested by Sinn Féin, up to the beginnings of the peace process in the late 1980s, right up to the current power-sharing administration at Stormont.
He also called on the governments in London and Dublin to call the first in a series of border polls as required by the Good Friday Agreement. “Our goal is within our hands. The question is how we take up the opportunity before us. There is a job of work to do, including in convincing the governments to call a border poll. Even if have a border poll we may not have the numbers of nationalists, even if all nationalists voted in favour.
“We need some people who are currently unionists to buy into the arguments that there are benefits, mutual benefits, of unification,” he said. Mr McLaughlin said he believes some unionists may be open to persuasion. “We can negotiate at a high level with unionists but they are constantly looking over their shoulder. We need to take full advantage of every opportunity to demonstrate that we are not afraid to engage with unionists at every level.
“Unionists fear our arguments. They knew how to respond to a security situation but they have not come up with a political response to political questions. We can change that by engagement,” he said.