The organisation called the ceasefire a unilateral initiative and said no conditions were attached, but it urged the British government to regard the move as an opportunity that should be utilised.
It is not known whether the statement was designed to coincide with John Major's visit last night to Northern Ireland. His trip was clearly planned some time ahead, but preparations for such events are carried out in some secrecy and it remains unclear whether the IRA had found out and is seeking to overshadow the visit.
As he flew into Belfast last night, the Prime Minister was dismissive of a ceasefire lasting only three days. 'I have to say I think a ceasefire over the Easter period would be cynical. What people in Northern Ireland want is not a ceasefire over two or three days but a permanent end to violence. That is the message we wish to hear,
not just a brief public relations
There was no confirmation from republican sources that the three- day ceasefire had the potential for extension to a much longer period, perhaps up to three months. However, Sinn Fein leaders will make important speeches at Easter, and these will be scrutinised for indications of possible further initiatives. The IRA statement said: 'Making peace is a difficult business for all involved, but the difficulties must be overcome. That, too, is the responsibility of all involved, but particularly the British government. We hope that the further opportunity here provided is used to that purpose and effect.'
The Irish government welcomed any reduction in violence, even if temporary, adding that it remained hopeful the cessation of violence would shortly be made permanent.
Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president, also welcomed the IRA statement, and called on Mr Major to authorise direct and immediate talks between Sinn Fein and the Government.
However, Ken Maginnis, the Ulster Unionist security spokesman, said the IRA was intent on embarrassing Mr Major. He added: 'It's very difficult when you know the enemy are sitting on over 100 tons of arms and explosives and that at any time, irrespective of what concessions are made, they can return to violence. They can mortar Heathrow, they can blow up pubs as they have done for 20 years.'
John Hume, the Social Democratic and Labour Party leader, who has already urged the Government to clarify the Downing Street Declaration for Sinn Fein, said the ultimate objective was a total cessation of violence and no stone should be left unturned.
'If they are being cynical and if they are bluffing, then let their bluff be called, because they know as well as everyone else that if that is done they will be isolated in a way they never have been before. I believe, in my dialogue with them, that they have been serious about bringing all this to an end,' he said.
Kevin McNamara, Labour's spokesman on Northern Ireland, said if there was an opportunity in the three days to build upon something that could lead to a permanent cessation of hostilities, without entering into negotiations, it should be built upon.
Republicans have come under increased pressure recently as acts of IRA violence have drained away much of Sinn Fein's recently enhanced status. Events such as the Heathrow mortar attacks, the Belfast killing of an RUC detective, and the beating administered to an SDLP councillor in Crossmaglen, for which the IRA is blamed, have diminished Mr Adams's successes.
Sinn Fein and the IRA are now clearly attempting to achieve their objectives through a careful interleaving of violence and political activity. Next week's ceasefire appears to have arisen from a calculation that it is time to soften their image and attempt to shift the onus for the next move on to the Government.
Republican sources project the move as a highly significant development and one that is without precedent since the mid-1970s.
The sources are adamant that they are not in contact with the British. But it is widely known channels exist between the republicans and the Irish government, and that Mr Reynolds has written several letters to Mr Adams clarifying Dublin's understanding of the Downing Street Declaration.
Ground-breaking move, page 2Reuse content