Former Northern Ireland first minister Peter Robinson has said people should be prepared for a united Ireland.
The ex-Democratic Unionist leader also said they should accept the results of a border poll that backed reunification.
In a speech in Co Donegal, Mr Robinson said he believed Northern Ireland should prepare for the possibility that it might eventually join with Ireland as one country.
“I don’t expect my own house to burn down but I still insure it because it could happen,” Mr Robinson said, according to the Belfast Telegraph.
However, his comments have provoked an angry response from former Ulster Unionist leader Lord Empey who said they would be would be “music to the ears of Irish republicans” and the Irish government.
In the event of a referendum in favour of a united Ireland, Mr Robinson said: “As soon as that decision is taken every democrat will have to accept that decision.”
But Lord Empey accused Mr Robinson of becoming a “Sinn Fein echo chamber”.
He told the Belfast Telegraph: “It is truly hard to fathom that a former senior unionist could be coming out with these sorts of comments when our national Government is in the middle of intense negotiations about the UK’s departure from the EU, where the EU and the Republic’s government are using Northern Ireland as a political football to try and leverage more concessions from the United Kingdom.
“Peter Robinson is playing into the hands of our country’s opponents.
“His house insurance analogy is facile.”
Mr Robinson was also critical of the continuing impasse following the collapse of the powersharing administration at Stormont.
In a stark message to the current generation of politicians, Mr Robinson stressed the need to put their differences aside, claiming it was “intolerable” some of them appeared to have “turned their backs” on the electorate.
“Central to protecting the helpful and cordial set of relationships, that have been built up over many years, is the rebirth and smooth operation of the Northern Ireland Assembly, its Executive, along with the North-South and East-West institutions,” he said.
“Without each and all of those parts being in place, and working, relationships will suffer – perhaps drastically.
“The absence of the complete network of connections leaves us all vulnerable to a downward spiral which may lead to toxicity.”