Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said that he believes that the current political strategy will “inevitably” lead to a united Ireland.
The senior Sinn Féin leader made the remark at the Uniting Ireland conference held at the Millennium Forum on Saturday afternoon.
The conference attracted a diverse audience of republicans, nationalists, and unionists.
McMcGuinness opened the conference by extending an unusual greeting to Ulster Unionist MLA Basil McCrea, who had earlier asked republicans and nationalists to use the term ‘Londonderry; occasionally in a spirit of co-operation with unionists.
“Basil, welcome to Londonderry. And in 2013 we will replace that with LegenDerry,” Mr McGuinness said.
Addressing the packed Millennium Forum, Mr McGuinness said: “I am an Irish republican. As my central political objective I want to bring about the reunification of Ireland by purely peaceful and democratic means. I believe the process we are involved in will inevitably lead to that,” he said.
The Sinn Féin leader cited the case of Germany as a model of Irish reunification.
“Germany faced a bigger challenge that we do. The economic argument is used against the reunification of Ireland. How can we afford it? The South can’t afford us? “Germany faced bigger challenges than we did and they overcame them and they now have a reunited Germany,” he said.
He also said he believes the argument for closer economic co-operation has been won. “I believe in moving forward inexorably towards an all-Ireland economy. Sir George Quigley has been at the forefront of that argument. Leading economists all over the island advocate working together, pooling our resources, intensifying trade north and south,” he said.
The Mid Ulster MP explained that the North-South Institutions of the Good Friday Agreement have proved what can be achieved on an all-Ireland basis. “There are a plethora of examples of how we can work together to build a better future for all of our people.
“The challenges are clearly there but the North-South institutions have worked. They are capable of being further developed and I look forward to that for the benefit of all our people,” he explained.
He also praised unionists who are prepared to engage in discussions around reuniting Ireland.
“At some stage in the future there will be a referendum in which the people of the North will decide and I think that at some stage the people of the North will decide that our future lies on the island of Ireland with good relationships with England, Scotland and Wales, and the European Union.
“I am hugely optimistic for the future and I welcome very much that there are unionists with the courage of Basil McCrea and John McCallister and indeed others who are willing to put their head above the parapet and begin the discussion which will lead to a better, safer, and more secure future for all of us,” he said.