Martin McGuinness, a leading member, drew wild applause at the party's annual conference in Dublin when he questioned what more could be inflicted on 'the beleagured nationalist community'.
'What are they going to do? Are they going to murder us? We've had that. Are they going to intern us? We've had that. Are they going to use supergrasses against us? We've had that too.
'We've had it all . . . and we're not afraid of it,' Mr McGuinness said. Ridiculing the claim of a poll in the Dublin Sunday Independent that 35 per cent of Sinn Fein voters favoured a security crackdown if the party rejected the Downing Street plan, he said that 'after the 25 years of hell that we've been through', no one should think more security measures would solve the problem.
Speaking in a key debate entitled 'Towards a lasting peace', Mr McGuinness said the route to peace lay in Britain dropping the 'veto' granted to Ulster Unionists by the guarantee that majority consent would be required in the north before moving to Irish unity.
The idea of self-determination for the Irish people as a whole in a 32-county referendum has been a central part of the joint peace initiative by Gerry Adams and John Hume, leader of the SDLP.
Mr McGuinness, seen as influential in IRA ranks, told the Ard Fheis he believed the Government was 'tentatively grappling with new realities'. There were clear signs that many in it were troubled by Britain's role in Ireland.
But he said Sinn Fein must also grapple with new realities and needed to talk to the British government about this. 'The difficulty about that is not insurmountable.
'The British government says that for Sinn Fein to be involved in talks the guns must not be at the table, or even in the room. Fair enough, but I think we should go just a little further. Let everyone leave all the guns, British guns and Irish guns, outside the door. Let's leave beside them in another pile all the injustices which exist in the northern state.
'The greatest injustice ever inflicted on the beleagured nationalist community was to be trapped in a gerrymandered, undemocratic sectarian state. If the British government are prepared to say that the Unionists will not have a veto over British government policy and that guns, vetoes and injustices will all be left outside the door, then there is no good reason why talks cannot take place in an appropriate atmosphere. Let us all walk into the conference room as equals and not second class citizens.'
Mr McGuinness was loudly applauded when he praised Gerry Adams, the party leader, and asserted: 'There's not the slightest possibility of a split.' The several hundred delegates backed the leadership's peace strategy and endorsed the call for 'clarification' of the Downing Street Declaration.
There was more applause for praise for the IRA by Rory Dougan, a member from Dundalk.' It was a direct result of IRA operations in England . . . and elsewhere that has forced the British government into the position in which they now find themselves. What shook the British Government to its foundations were the vibrations of IRA bombs exploding in the City of London.'
Jim Gibney, a Belfast member of the party executive, recounted his personal story to refute suggestions that republicans were not interested in peace. He had thrown his 'first stone for freedom' at 15 years old in 1969, served three prison terms totalling almost 10 years, held the hand of the hunger striker, Bobby Sands, hours before he died and carried 'countless' coffins. But he said the struggle had entered a new phase, pregnant with possibilities. 'This new situation requires new thinking, new approaches, flexibility in all quarters, in Britain, in Dublin, among Unionists and amongst northern nationalists.'
Joe Cahill, commander of the IRA's Belfast brigade in the early 1970s, said he had never seen such a strong and determined will to carry on until a lasting peace was achieved for all the island of Ireland. Quoting words written more than 50 years ago by Tom Williams shortly before he was hanged in Belfast, Mr Cahill told the Ard Fheis: 'Carry on my comrades until that certain day.'
Firebombers attacked four stores in Ulster yesterday. Incendiary devices went off in Lisburn, Co Antrim, Belfast and Glengormley, on the northern outskirts of the city. Nobody was hurt and police said damage was minor.