SDLP leader Colum Eastwood’s landmark speech at the Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis won applause and headlines for its ‘special place in hell’ attack on Sinn Féin.
But his conciliatory tone towards unionism failed to move DUP MP Gregory Campbell.
Mr. Eastwood, cementing the SDLP’s new partnership with Fianna Fáil, declared: “There will be a special place reserved in hell for those who call for a border poll in Ireland with no plan or no idea of how to actually win it.”
He warned calls for a unity referendum risked alienating those who self-identified as British.
“I am all too aware that this talk of a ‘New Ireland’ risks sending some in our community to the hills and I’m sensitive to that fact but I also know that unionism is not limited to, or defined by, the politics of division.
“There are many within the unionist community who are willing to engage and who are willing to explore new possibilities. But we all have a duty to tell our unionist neighbours this: ‘You belong to this place every bit as much as I do.’”
The Foyle MLA’s inclusive tone failed to impress his former Derry City Council colleague, however.
Mr. Campbell blasted: “Put to one side that our Britishness isn’t up for negotiation, examine the nub of Colum Eastwood’s objective - a United Ireland. He wants to begin a process, make preparation etc. etc. There is a very direct and tangible way of confronting his rhetoric with reality.
“The SDLP has been in existence for nearly 50 years. For over 40 of those years their leader has been from Londonderry. John Hume, Mark Durkan and now Colum Eastwood. The rhetoric is about reconciliation, the reality is that more than 97 per cent of the population where all of them live (the West Bank of Londonderry) is nationalist.
“The IRA caused the massive unionist population movement over a period of time with murder, terror, and threats, but the SDLP remained silent for years about it.”