'United Ireland discussions are premature' - Fianna Fail
Sinn Féin has been criticised for hosting a series of "premature" debates on a United Ireland and failing to engage fully with ending a year-long deadlock in the North.
It comes after Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin declined three opportunities to speak at the debates because he wants to focus on Brexit matters.
His party has appealed to new Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald to focus on similar matters and engage fully with negotiations in Northern Ireland instead of indulging in a series of debates about uniting the 32 counties.
Mr Martin was criticised by his Sinn Féin constituency rival Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire last week for declining to take part in a United Ireland discussion in Cork City Hall later this month.
However, Fianna Fáil said it will not be sending a representative to the Sinn Féin event because the party wants to focus on more pressing issues.
"Fianna Fáil is committed to a United Ireland through consensus and dialogue and believes that Ireland is best served now by preparing for Brexit and limiting the damage it will have on many sectors and on citizens on our island," said a spokesman.
"Therefore, discussions now about a United Ireland are premature."
He claimed that Sinn Féin should be focused on engaging in discussions with the aim of re-establishing a power-sharing executive in the North, more than a year after the collapse of the government in Northern Ireland following the 'cash-for-ash' controversy.
The DUP and Sinn Féin are believed to be nearing a deal and it is hoped this week could bring further progress to restore a government.
Nonetheless, Sinn Féin has been criticised for organising the United Ireland debates while tensions remain high in the North. "Fianna Fáil responded to the invitation by saying they would be unable to attend the conference," said a spokesperson.
"We believe the people of Northern Ireland would be best served by having an executive in place and would urge Sinn Féin to put all of their current energies into that process."
Mr Martin last week ruled out the prospect of his party going into coalition with Sinn Féin.
He criticised Ms McDonald, saying she "was a good soldier within Sinn Féin in terms of sticking to the line and defending the indefensible".
Sinn Féin TD Mr Ó Laoghaire said Fianna Fáil needed to set out a vision for a United Ireland.
"It is remarkable that while Fianna Fáil have refused to engage in Sinn Féin's series of 'Towards A United Ireland' conferences, unionist voices have been represented at each and will also be at the Cork event.
"A United Ireland will be better for everyone on our island in economic, social and political terms. Any political party that hides from the debate is doing their electors a great disservice."
Speaking yesterday, Ms McDonald said she would be hopeful that during her leadership there will be a referendum on a United Ireland and that it would be passed.
She added that she would want it achieved with "the maximum consensus possible".