Those who advocate unity must lay out their vision - Matt Carthy MEP
Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy has called for the widest possible discussion of the options for Irish unity and the forms it might take.
He also said support for political parties in the North, based solely on the idea of opposition to Irish unity, is unsustainable in the long term.
Addressing the Towards a United Ireland conference in Dublin today Carthy said:
"Sinn Féin, or any other party or Movement, bring it about on their own.
"We need all those in favour a united Ireland to co-operate, despite differences on other matters.
"Sinn Féin is told by political opponents that our active pursuit of Irish reunification is divisive.
"They say there will be a united Ireland at some undefined time in the future, but that now is not the time.
"But unity will not happen through wishful thinking. It needs a realistic political strategy and actions.
"It needs people, political leaders, the media and civic society to talk about the issue. To discuss the possibilities and the options.
The leadership of those parties which claim to support Irish unity, acting together, could provide the leadership to deliver it."
Carthy said support for a referendum must be generated by mainstreaming the idea within political discourse.
"For most people, active engagement with a big idea only becomes a reality when there is something tangible to focus on.
"The agreement of a significant section of people, now described as unionists, is required to win a referendum.
"The North has been transformed in recent years, and that transformation is ongoing.
"The North is no longer the Orange state. Many of the certainties held for so long by the old unionist political establishment are gone.
"These changes will continue and are irreversible.
"In this context, I believe that it is essential that those who advocate unity, lay out their vision of what a united Ireland might look like.
"This is crucial in allaying fears within the unionist community of reverse discrimination or cultural marginalisation in a united Ireland."
Carthy said unionists know that society in the South is not the one that existed in the 1950s or even the 1980s:
"Old slogans about a 'priest ridden republic' are so patently out of date, that even the most virulent loyalists no longer use them.
"There are also significant demographic changes occurring in the North as a result of which those who identify themselves as British are declining, while those who identify as Irish or Northern Irish are increasing.
"I believe that political support, based solely on the idea of opposition to Irish unity, is unsustainable in the long term.
"People in the North need real answers to everyday social and economic problems and, as the North changes, wrapping everything up in the Union Jack will prove an increasingly threadbare position."