Mr Adams said he had advised the IRA that Irish nationalism was now strong enough to bring about the changes essential for a just and lasting peace.
This means, according to republican logic, that the Sinn Fein leader no longer believes the IRA campaign is necessary for his movement to achieve its ends. He said he had met the leadership of the IRA and told it the potential now existed for movement towards a peaceful settlement. The IRA had promised him a speedy response.
The Sinn Fein leader declared: 'The potential now exists to move the situation towards a democratic and peaceful settlement. I am satisfied that Irish nationalism, if properly mobilised and focused at home and abroad, now has sufficient political confidence, weight and support to bring about the changes which are essential to a just and lasting peace. This is the considered position I put to the IRA.' His analysis was provided at the IRA's request in the light of 'developments within the last few days'.
His words are seen as a clear signal that the IRA will shortly declare not just a temporary tactical ceasefire but a complete halt to the campaign that has taken more than half of the 3,000-plus lives lost in the Northern Ireland conflict.
Despite Mr Adams's intervention, republican sources last night still would give no inkling of the timing of an announcement, though there was speculation it could come today or tomorrow.
The statement came after a day of warnings from the Ulster Unionists and Protestants about their fears for the future. The illegal Ulster Defence Association said the 'phoney so-called peace process' was a recipe for civil war rather than a historic opportunity for a settlement.
The UDA, which has killed scores of Catholics in recent years, accused John Hume, leader of the SDLP, and Mr Adams of aggression towards loyalists. It added: 'Do you seriously believe we will sit back and allow ourselves to be coerced into an all-Ireland?
'As we have stated before there is a price to be paid. You have not yet paid that price but you will.'
Unionists denounced the potential ceasefire, the Irish government and Mr Hume, while nationalists expressed hope that a ceasefire would lead to peace and political progress. A flood of Unionist condemnation of Mr Hume followed the tone set by James Molyneaux, the Ulster Unionist leader, who said the SDLP leader had 'sold his soul to the devil' by working with Mr Adams.
In contrast, Dr Cahal Daly, the leader of Ireland's Catholics, said they could be close to the goal of taking the gun out of Irish politics. He added: 'There is much forgiveness to be asked for and to be mutually granted by each community. This is not a time for recrimination and bitterness. It is not a time to look back in anger.' He warned the process might still be derailed by 'dismissive comment, partisan speech or ingrained mistrust'.
An assessment of the Protestant mood came from the Rev Godfrey Brown, a former Presbyterian moderator, noted for his restraint, who said yesterday: 'I must reflect the tremendous sense of fear and betrayal in the Unionist community, particularly the working-class Unionist community, the fear that they are about to be sold down the river because of some deal that is being done behind closed doors.' This feeling is an indicator that loyalist paramilitary groups may react violently to the ceasefire.
Mr Molyneaux is expected to meet the Prime Minister this week, while the Rev Ian Paisley, leader of the Democratic Unionists, is pressing for a separate meeting.
Last night, George Gardiner - the Thatcherite chairman of the 92 group of Tory backbenchers - warned of a 'grave danger of responding to an agenda determined by the IRA', writes Donald Macintyre.
The message from the Tory right that Downing Street must not make concessions will be underlined by the presence of Enoch Powell, former MP for North Down, at a meeting organised by the right-wing Conservative Way Forward group at the Tory party conference in October.Reuse content