Ulster Unionist MLA Basil McCrea told the large crowd at the Uniting Ireland conference held in Derry on Saturday that more informal discussions need to take place between unionists and republicans.
Mr McCrea made the comments at the ‘Uniting Ireland - Towards a New Republic’ event which was organised by Sinn Féin and attracted a crowd of around 900 people.
He attended the conference with UUP deputy leader John McCallister, who spoke at a previous Sinn Féin-organised event in Newry last year.
The Lagan Valley MLA told the crowd he has stong links with the north west, having been born in Ramelton, and of his connections to the McFarland family in Derry.
Mr McCrea said that many unionists are not sure how to deal with the outreach approach adopted by Sinn Féin in recent years.
“We are all comfortable when we are talking to people from our own cultural backgrounds but it is a bit more challenging when we are talking to someone else.
“Every transaction is based on developing trust, not necessarily agreement but trust. We need to know that what is being said is what is being meant. I was struck when I was talking to Gerry Adams and I kept wondering if what he said was what he really meant because you are all used to his sweet tones, you know what it means but I don’t get it and I sometimes wonder if his honeyed tones are something of a trap for naive and unsuspecting unionists,” he said.
“I have to say I could ask a similar question of Peter Robinson but in his case I am pretty sure that he is laying a trap for unsuspecting and naive unionists,” he added.
The Ulster Unionist also said he is a supporter of economic co-operation on an all-Ireland basis but added that he does not believe a single state on the island is economically viable.
“The scale of the economic support for Northern Ireland from Westminster appears to be either ignored or forgotten or not understood by people advocating a new republic.
“In 2009 we spent 21 billion on public services in NI but we only raised 12 billion in taxes. There is a massive eight billion pounds of a shortfall. That comes directly from Westminster. It dwarves any subvention we get for inward investment. Some people say to me that they are going to build a new republic and do it differently, that doesn’t seem to be right when you look at the history of Ireland. It hasn’t happened that way. This is not a blip but a recurring nightmare,” he said. He also added, however, that economic co-operation is necessary.
“Our goal should be to maximise the economic output of all parts of the island of Ireland because improving one is beneficial to us all. If you want someone to support an all Ireland economy, I’m all for it,” he said.
Mr McCrea also said that unionists have a vision for Ireland and encouraged more dialogue to make it a reality.
“When I challenge some of your ideology and explain that my form of unionism is not sectarian, that it is not discriminatory and that I am not some form of alien that you will listen to what I have to say because I too have a vision for Ireland and a vision for Northern Ireland and we do have to reach some form of accommodation because we all live on this island,” he said.