Campaign heats up with unity prediction

A prediction by Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness that there could be a united Ireland by 201 has set the tone of the debate in the last week of campaigning for the Assembly election.

The Mid Ulster MP said at his party's manifesto launch that Republicans could attain their goal by the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising.

``As we develop the north-south implementation bodies and people co-operate and work together, I think people will see more and more the logic of that,'' Mr McGuinness said.

``Certainly it is our view that it can be accomplished over a short period. Gerry Adams has said 2016 and I think that is achievable.''

Ulster Unionist David McNarry described Mr McGuinness's comments as a ``pipe dream''.

``My children's grandchildren won't even see a united Ireland,'' the Strangford Assembly candidate said.

But Sinn Féin's National Chairperson said today that when a majority emerges for a united Ireland, the unionist community should respect it. On the campaign trail this morning, Sinn Féin's Mitchel McLaughlin said the issue of united Ireland was ``an issue for the people''.

``We have said that we will take this status quo that we disagree with and we will work it and we will work with you (unionists) to ensure that we deliver better social and economic experiences and realities in future for the people who live here.

``We will respect the fact that a majority exists in the present circumstances to retain the link with Britain... but when a majority emerges for a united Ireland - which it will - we would like to see the unionist community coming back and saying we respect that decision taken through a peaceful and democratic process.''


Sinn Féin also criticised the nationalist SDLP last night over the issue of how their supporters should vote in the proportional representation election.

With transfers between candidates down the ballot paper likely to determine the final seats in 18 constituencies, Sinn Féin chairman Mitchel McLaughlin said his party wanted to maximise the nationalist vote. However, he accused the SDLP of turning its back on a nationalist voting pact.

``We have always argued that we should maximise the nationalist vote,'' the Foyle Assembly candidate said. ``We would have preferred a formal voting pact with the SDLP but we have been rebuffed every time we have offered that.''

Martin McGuinness also criticised the SDLP, insisting he had not heard his nationalist rivals encouraging their supporters to transfer to Sinn Féin.

Meanwhile, a Sinn Féin source has said the party is poised to take at least five extra seats in next week's Assembly election, boosting its representation from 18 to 23 in the 108-seat Assembly.

He also claimed that under the proportional representation system, there would be more transfers from the rival nationalist SDLP to his party.

``We are getting a lot of credit on the doorsteps for our efforts in the peace process,'' he said.

``We believe that we are on target to achieve a 60% transfer rate.''

He said the party was emphasising the need for strong nationalist representation in the Assembly because there was a possibility that unionists could have more ministries in the next power sharing government if the Sinn Féin and SDLP votes were not maximised.

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