No Irish republican can harbour the notion that there can be a return to violence to further their means, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams insisted tonight.
In his leader’s address to the Sinn Féin annual conference in Dublin, Mr Adams acknowledged some republicans believed that the IRA’s decision last July to end its armed campaign was a mistake.
However the West Belfast MP said that while those people were entitled to their view, Sinn Féin’s leadership were firmly opposed to any move away from the IRA’s declaration.
“The decision by the IRA to move into a new peaceful mode places an enormous responsibility on all of us to seize the moment and to make Irish freedom a reality,” the Sinn Fein president said.
“I believe that this generation of republicans can make good the promises of the 1916 (Easter Rising) Proclamation.
“But the decisions by the IRA were undoubtedly deeply difficult for many. There are republicans still trying to come to terms with it many months later.
“Indeed, undoubtedly there are some who believe the IRA has made a mistake.
“They are entitled to their opinion but to no more than that.
“No one should harbour the notion that the republican struggle can be advanced ay further by an armed campaign. This leadership is firmly opposed to such a departure.”
Mr Adams said the IRA’s decision to abandon the armed campaign and complete disarmament also placed a challenge with other political parties and governments involved in the peace process.
With the next round of negotiations to revive the Northern Ireland Assembly due to take place at Stormont on Monday, he insisted the months ahead would be critical for the process and failure would set back all the progress that could be achieved by decades.
The Sinn Féin leader raised concerns about how the British and Irish governments were handling the current round of talks.
As speculation mounted that British prime minister Tony Blair is considering reconvening the Assembly ahead of a deadline for full blown devolution, Mr Adams accused London and Dublin of pandering to the Reverend Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party.
He said: “Sinn Féin will listen attentively and respectfully to everyone’s ideas. But the main objective of these talks has to be to end the suspension of the political institutions within a short time frame.
“The Sinn Féin leadership has told both governments, and I have told both Mr Ahern (Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern) and Mr Blair directly, that there can be no dilution of the Good Friday Agreement to allow for a two-tier or two stages approach or British appointed commissioners to run the north (of Ireland).
“British direct rule is also not an option.”
Mr Adams set out five strategic challenges facing his party in the time ahead.
Sinn Féin, he said, had to:
:: concentrate on the current negotiations to advance the peace process and ensure the Good Friday Agreement was implemented in full including resolving the issue of policing.
:: develop an entirely new relationship with unionists, deepening and broadening the party’s engagement with that community.
:: build support in Britain for the unification of Ireland.
:: promote an Ireland of equals, emphasising the cross-border agenda.
:: build up Sinn Féin as a party, giving a more prominent role to women.
The Sinn Féin president said he believed there were many good people within unionism who cared about their community and wanted stability, peace and prosperity.
These included people in Mr Paisley’s DUP, the loyalist Progressive Unionist Party and the Ulster Unionists who had worked with Sinn Féin in elected bodies.
In a pointed challenge to the Reverend Ian Paisley, he asked in his leader’s speech televised live in the Irish Republic: “Are you ready to begin the process of building a shared future?
“One thing is for certain, Sinn Féin is not going away.
“And there is another thing that all of us can be certain of – change will continue. The best option for unionists and the rest of us is to collectively manage the changes that are coming.”
The Sinn Féin leader said his party’s engagement with unionists and understanding had to deepen if they were both to be partners in conflict resolution.
“The imperative of conflict resolution begs another question of Ian Paisley: Ian, is your war over?”