Gregory Campbell believes a united Ireland is further away than ever.
The East Londonderry MP said this week that a reunified island wasn’t on the radar.
“I speak to school groups, sixth and upper sixth pupils, in a range of schools on a regular basis and, while there is support in maintained schools for parties that espouse a united Ireland, there is little appetite for it as a desirable goal,” said the DUP MP.
“More Roman Catholics appear to be content living within the UK. If virtually all Protestants and a sizeable number of Roman Catholics support UK membership, the game is over.”
The Londonderry-born politician said it was his impression that, in the Republic of Ireland, there was “a satisfaction that we, in Northern Ireland are, to a degree, ‘getting on with devolution’ and they don’t want to interfere.
“Sinn Fein’s tactics in the Republic seem to demonstrate that even they know it simply isn’t a vote winner for them. They will campaign on an anti-austerity platform but not an anti-partition one. There are votes in the former, but not in the latter.”
In response to the argument that the island of Ireland would be better served by a single political, economic and administrative entity, Mr Campbell said: “If citizens would be better served by one tax regime, one health structure etc then let’s look at having it - one single British-Irish system. It would, however, mean disposing with devolution and doing away with the Dail.”
He is also dismissive of claims that Irish unity would result in a significant long-term improvement in Ireland’s economy.
“Belonging to the sixth biggest economy in the world offers so much more. Belonging to a nation that can stage huge global events like the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games offers so much scope for internationalising business opportunities that a much smaller nation cannot hope to offer.
“Let’s remember, the UK hosted the G8 summit here in Northern Ireland. We wouldn’t even be at the G8 if we were foolish enough to join one of the smaller nation states such as the Irish Republic.”
Mr Campbell reveals that he has never really been interested in becoming leader of the DUP.
“I’ve never considered myself as a ‘career politician’, despite what amounts to a career that has opened up for me.
“I am a firm believer that it is the direction of travel that matters rather than who’s in the cab driving.
“If the direction is right, the identity of the driver is largely secondary. As long as the party is leading the way for Unionism and the political objectives of the wider unionist community are being advanced by us, it’s a secondary consideration as to who is the leader.
“The party has a collective leadership, in any case, and I’m very happy that those of us who are party officers continue to ensure the right path is pursued.”
He also reveals that his decision to stand down as a MLA to focus on his role as MP was a “exceptionally difficult call to make.”
“The two roles are very complementary, but different. Having already served twice as a Minister at Stormont, I feel that continuing at Westminster and allowing a replacement at Stormont is the better outcome.
“I’m very happy that my dual role has (a) been effective and (b) saved the taxpayer over half a million pounds over the last six years as I don’t get a salary or overhead costs from Stormont.”
Turning to the forthcoming Assembly elections, Mr Campbell believes his party will perform well.
The Foyle Constituency, he said, is now a “cockpit seat” following Martin McGuinness’ move from Mid-Ulster.
“The preferences of unionist voters may well help decide the outcome of the final seat,” he maintained.
“I have every confidence that Gary Middleton will hold the single unionist seat but the closeness of the SF-SDLP vote in more recent elections, with Eamonn McCann possibly in the mix as well, does make it a very different contest than previously.”
As to the future, he says he wants one where peace is so “ingrained” that any micro-groups who try to restart “the violent failures of the past” quickly realise there is no chance of success.
The Northern Ireland of the future, he says, should genuinely become a “byword for tolerance and respect.”
“To put it in a local context, hopefully we can get to the point in the near future where young football supporters wearing a Rangers top can walk as freely around the Cityside of Londonderry as young Celtic supporters can currently walk freely around Coleraine and Ballymena.”