Anna Lo: 'United Ireland' remarks 'insulting', say unionists
The Alliance Party has been accused of abandoning its "middle ground position" after a high-profile member declared her preference for a united Ireland.
Anna Lo described herself as "anti-colonial" and said the partition of Ireland was "artificial".
Ms Lo, who is the party's European election candidate, made the comments in an interview for the Irish News.
Alliance said its policy remained that it was up to the majority of people to determine the future status of NI.
In the interview, published on Thursday, the South Belfast MLA said a united Ireland would be "better placed economically, socially and politically".
Her comments come just weeks before the 22 May European election.
In response, DUP MLA Arlene Foster called on Ms Lo to apologise for her "deeply insulting language".
Ms Foster added: "It is not entirely surprising to hear such clear Irish, nationalist aspirations coming from within the Alliance Party.
"It is vital however, that Anna Lo answers some questions, particularly about the language she chooses to use.
"What exactly does her reference to being 'anti-colonial' mean? Does Anna Lo believe that Northern Ireland is comparable to a colony and does she view unionists as colonists? Northern Ireland is not a colony; it is a full and equal part of the United Kingdom.
"That kind of deeply insulting language and prejudicial viewpoint is usually only ever articulated from the extreme edges of republicanism but is now coming from the selected Alliance Party candidate for Europe."
Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson said Ms Lo's comments seemed to be "yet another attempt by the Alliance Party to distance Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom".
"Describing Northern Ireland being part of the United Kingdom as 'artificial' as Anna Lo has done, is another sign that the Alliance Party is fast becoming a cold house for unionists," he said.
"If Anna Lo's comments are reflective of the Alliance Party's position, it can no longer claim to be a middle-ground party.
"I now call on the leader of the Alliance party, David Ford, to clarify the party's position on whether or not support for a united Ireland is now official Alliance Party policy."
Duncan Morrow, who is an Alliance party candidate in the local government elections, said Ms Lo's comments could be squared with the party's support for the principle of consent.
He said: "I think the party position is definitely that we are fully part of the UK by consent and that's the way it is, but that people can aspire to be British, Irish or both.
"In that sense, Anna is in line. Her position is an aspiration that won't be shared by everybody but that's the nature of Alliance.
"She has maintained policy but she has expressed her own view."
The principle of consent is one of the key points of the Good Friday Agreement and states that it is for the people of Northern Ireland to decide their own future.