Mr Gerry Adams has reiterated his argument that the IRA may need to end activity and disarm so that unionists will no longer have an excuse not to share power with Sinn Féin.
The Sinn Féin president yesterday stood by and re-emphasised the remarks he made on Thursday evening that republicans may be required effectively to stand down and decommission so that unionists can no longer justify not fully working the political institutions.
Irish and British government sources have reacted cautiously to the remarks but welcomed the fact that Mr Adams has now generated early impetus for the intensive political negotiations aimed at restoring devolution that begin in September.
Unionist politicians expressed some cynicism about his comments and said what was required was the IRA matching Mr Adamss words with deeds.
Mr Adams in a statement and in interviews on BBC and RTÉ, insisted that his remarks were important, although he stressed that any potential positive response from the IRA hinged on the full implementation of the Belfast Agreement.
Mr Adams made his initial comments to BBC Radio Ulster on Thursday evening when he said: I personally feel that while there are justifiable fears within unionism about the IRA and while people have concerns about the IRA, I think political unionism uses the IRA and the issue of IRA arms as an excuse. I think that republicans need to be prepared to remove that as an excuse.
But we who are in leadership will only be empowered to do so if there is a context in which we can make progress. I dont see the IRA doing that of its own volition. I see the IRA only doing that as part of an ongoing process of sustainable change.
He did a number of interviews again yesterday. On RTÉs Summer Days programme he said he was consciously making what he viewed as an important statement. Well, of course it was important. I would not have said it otherwise, he told interviewer Tom McGurk. Mr Adams also indicated that a degree of planning went into setting this new tone for the September talks. We have willed ourselves. Myself and Martin McGuinness went off last week to have a little tête-à-tête and we came back with the very firm view that we should be into these negotiations to make them work, he said. Of the key element of his comments he added, I was acknowledging my very, very strong view that while there are justifiable fears within unionism about the IRA, political unionism is using the IRA and the issue of IRA weapons as an excuse to stop progress.
I think republicans need to be prepared to grasp that nettle and to remove that excuse so that the entire process can move forward.
However, we who are in leadership in Sinn Féin and are trying to move it forward can only do so - because the IRA will not move of its own volition even though it is a friend of this process - so we can only try to create that situation where there is an ongoing process of sustainable change.
At the moment we dont have that. We have the exact opposite, he said. Of course, as part of this process, the IRA will cease to be if the process succeeds. Nobody should have any illusions about that. The IRA will not like that but it is ironic that while republicans will be sore about what I said, the people who responded in the most belligerent way were the unionists. That is part of the problem, said Mr Adams, a point he repeated in other interviews and in a personal statement responding to the sceptical unionist reaction to his initial statement.
In that statement he expressed disappointment at the strident and belligerent criticism made by Ian Paisley Jnr and Reg Empey. The fierce criticism from unionists of my remarks reinforces my concern, which I expressed [on Thursday] that political unionism is using the issue of the IRA and of IRA weapons as an excuse to obstruct progress in the peace process, he said.
Elaborating he continued, I set out a context, involving the two governments and other parties, including Sinn Féin, which could empower the Sinn Féin leadership to persuade republicans to remove that excuse. Is that not also a desirable goal for the unionist parties?
Are unionists so afraid of change that they would prefer to see armed groups and political instability continue?
If the answer to this is no, that they do want to see an end to armed groups, and they do want to see political stability, do they have any sense of their responsibility and role in bringing this about? Listening to the negative comments of the unionist political spokespersons many people, including Im sure many unionists, will have been left depressed and despondent. Mr Adams said the September talks offered the hope of finding agreement.
He wanted to see a holistic, definitive and conclusive closure to all of the outstanding issues. But for that goal to be achieved will require the DUP to face up to the challenge of talking to and sharing power with republicans, as well as joining with us in resolving matters as diverse as policing, human rights, equality and sectarianism, he added.
Are they up to it? I dont know. For our part, Sinn Féin will not shy away from the DUP. We want to make peace with unionism. This means agreeing measures within the terms of the Good Friday agreement to bring all outstanding issues to definitive and conclusive closure.