Sinn Féin has held the first in a series of international conferences discussing the issue of Irish unity.
The conferences are aimed at opening up conversations about a united Ireland and the first one was held in New York at the weekend.
Around 800 people from across the US, the majority of whom were Irish-American, attended the East Coast conference.
Party president Gerry Adams addressed those gathered as did former Middle East hostage Brian Keenan and political scientist Professor Brendan O’Leary.
The conferences was described as “communicating a new phase of activism in the USA” as part of a wider programme to “open up conversations” about Irish unity.
Sinn Féin already has a ‘United Ireland task force’ in place -- headed by regional development minister Conor Murphy and senator Pearse Doherty -- to roll out a series of events throughout Ireland on the issue of unity.
“Our struggle has taken many forms, sometimes armed, sometimes electoral, sometimes peaceful. We’ve fought on all fronts. We have suffered. Others have suffered also,” Mr Adams told the conference.
“With your support, we have made progress. There is an end to armed conflict . . . and I believe the political and economic dynamics in Ireland today make a united Ireland a realisable and realistic objective in a reasonable period of time.”
He expressed his confidence that a United Ireland is achievable.
“The question today is not so much how do we get there; the question is how does Irish America and the USA help the people of Ireland get there.
“How can you be active and effective? Because it isn’t a matter of IF we will get a united Ireland. It is a matter of HOW and WHEN. So, this conference is about what Irish America and the USA can do about uniting Ireland.
“From before the Fenians, through the Land War and the 1916 Rising, the hungerstrikes, and the peace process up to today, Irish America has supported the struggle in Ireland.
“And with your support we have made progress. There is an end to armed conflict. The Good Friday Agreement contains a legislative, peaceful and democratic mechanism to set up a new and democratic Ireland.
“I believe that the economic and political dynamics in Ireland today make a united Ireland a realistic and realisable objective in a reasonable period of time.
“This is a daunting challenge. It will require thoughtful strategies - huge outreach to our unionist brothers and sisters and a patient process of nation building to unite orange and green.
“But it can be done. We can do it, all of us together.”
Mr Adams said the conference marked “the beginning of a new phase of struggle.”
“I believe it will mobilise and motivate the diaspora in a way never seen before. And that is our purpose today. To begin that process.”
Brendan O’Leary, professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, spelt out some of the steps that would be necessary to unite the two parts of Ireland.
He claimed that there was no “revolutionary road to a united Ireland” and pointed out that, following the Good Friday Agreement, Article 3 of the constitution of the 26 Counties now states that an end to partition must be approved by separate referendums in both parts of the island.
Prof O’Leary said that the nationalist share of the vote in the North, which appears to have stabilised just above 40 per cent, would have to expand to include immigrants and a significant proportion of unionists.
He suggested that unionists might be willing to support a future, federal Ireland.
“I’m suggesting it might make sense to preserve ‘Northern Ireland’ as a unit and leave the South to decide whether it wishes to disaggregate into two or three units or just to have a two-unit federation. This, to my mind, is consistent with the principle of pluralism rather than assimilation,” Prof O’Leary said.
A West Coast unity conference is being held in San Francisco later this month while a third discussion on Irish unity is scheduled to take place in Canada later this year.
The US conferences are to be followed in 2010 by similar events in England, Wales and Scotland in a bid to spark debates about a united Ireland.
However, the Sinn Féin leadership has been accused of requiring “outreach” for its own members and activists after a second Sinn Féin councillor quit the party within a week.
John Dwyer, who was re-elected to New Ross Urban District Council in Wexford on a Sinn Féin ticket but failed to secure election on the county council, accused the Adams leadership of building a party of faces rather than policies and neglecting the working class.
His resignation came just a week after veteran Dublin councillor Christy Burke stood down. Mr Dwyer revealed that he had threatened to leave the party six weeks before the election but “didn’t want to damage emerging candidates’ campaigns”.
“After that the party headquarters pulled back completely,” he said.
“There was zero contact. They don’t like voices of discontent. But I am sure I’m not in isolation.”