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We'll have a united Ireland by 2016, says McGuinness

A UNITED Ireland by 2016 is on the cards, Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness predicted last night.

With nine days left to the North's Assembly Election, the Mid Ulster MP said at his party's manifesto launch 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."

Sinn Fein's manifesto, unveiled yesterday, called on the Irish Government to produce a Green Paper soon on unity.

The party also vowed to:

* Create more cross-border implementation bodies on policing, justice, agriculture, rural development, the social economy, pollution control, mental health, further and higher education, communications infrastructure and energy.

* Secure representation in the Oireachtas and voting rights for people in Northern Ireland in Irish Presidential elections.

Mr McGuinness's united Ireland prediction was challenged by unionists.

The Democratic Unionist MP for North Belfast Nigel Dodds reacted: "Sinn Fein will not be getting their united Ireland.

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"The unionist people will stand steadfast.

"The Sinn Fein manifesto is another wish list of concessions to republicans but many unionists will be saying: Haven't they had enough concessions? When is it all going to end?"

Ulster Unionist David McNarry dismissed Mr McGuinness's comments as a "pipe dream".

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

"Catholics I am talking to on the doorsteps aren't interested and many are voting unionist.

"The recent census figures dashed any republican hopes of a united Ireland. It would be more honest for them to tell their supporters that they are working for peace here and have ended their armed struggle to achieve a unitary state."

Sinn Fein continued to clash with the rival SDLP 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 Northern Ireland's 18 constituencies, Sinn Fein 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.

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

However, the SDLP's director of elections Brid Rodgers denied there had been any formal offer of a voting pact.

Speaking at the launch of the election manifesto, Mr McGuinness also said the republican peace strategy was delivering and the electorate had backed his party in growing numbers, making them the third largest party on the island.

The Sinn Fein manifesto focus is firmly fixed on Irish unity, the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and equality.

Mr McGuinness said he looked forward to Irish unity by 2016 and called for a Green Paper on this issue to be brought forward by the Dublin government.

Mr McGuinness insisted his party was the engine for change.

The manifesto promised to work for a new beginning on policing and the devolution of policing and justice powers and said it would work on issues such as eradicating child poverty and appointing a senior citizens commissioner.

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