"Republicans and nationalists want to be convinced that unionism is facing up to its responsibilities. Most fair-minded people on this island want to believe that a British government is prepared to usher in a new dispensation based on equality. But Sinn Fein is not naive. Our strategy is determined by objective realities. It is guided among other things by the fact that the democratic rights and entitlements of nationalists and republicans cannot be conditional. These rights are universal rights. They affect all citizens.
"In the Good Friday Agreement, matters such as policing, the political institutions, demilitarisation, human rights, the justice system and the equality agenda are stand-alone issues. These are issues to be resolved in their own right. We have put this to all those we have been in negotiation with. It is clear to the Sinn Fein leadership that the issue of IRA arms has been used as an excuse to undermine the peace process as well as the Good Friday Agreement.
"But I do not underestimate the emotiveness and confusions which arise at different phases in struggle and in particular the effects of media and propaganda spins. This is particularly so on the weapons issue. Many republicans are angry at the unrelenting focus on silent IRA weapons. This is in marked contrast to the attitude to loyalist weapons and bombs in daily use, and the remilitarisation by the British Army of republican heartlands. The issue of arms must be resolved. But not just IRA weapons. British weapons as well. This is a necessary part of any conflict resolution process.
"Martin McGuinness and I have also held discussions with the IRA and we have put to the IRA the view that if it could make a ground-breaking move on the arms issue that this could save the peace process from collapse and transform the situation. Genuine republicans will have concerns about such a move. It is to them that I address this section of my remarks. The naysayers, the armchair generals and begrudgers, and the enemies of Irish republicanism and of the peace process, will present a positive IRA move in disparaging terms. Others will say the IRA has acted under pressure. But everyone else knows the IRA is not an organisation that bows to pressure or which moves on British or Unionist terms. IRA volunteers have a view of themselves and a vision of the Ireland they want to be part of.
"We have all been part of something very powerful. Each of us have struggled in difficult and hard times. We are now in a good but challenging period for Irish republicanism. We have made significant advances this year. Our focus is on building the peace. Every one of us has a role in that daunting task. We have to ensure we have done our utmost to prevent the situation from slipping back into conflict.
"Our activists have been the heartbeat of the struggle for justice and freedom. It is the sum total or all our efforts that drives this process forward, that advances our struggle, and which builds the political strength to achieve our goals.
"The IRA is genuinely committed to building a peace process in which the objectives of Irish republicanism can be argued and advanced. The Army has repeatedly demonstrated leadership and patience and vision and I respect absolutely its right to make its own decision on this issue.
"I would appeal to republicans to stay united. I would particularly appeal to the IRA volunteers and their families and to the IRA support base to stay together in comradeship. It is a time for clear heads and brave hearts. The IRA must stand out as an example of a people's army, in touch with the people, responsive to their needs and enjoying their genuine allegiance and support."Reuse content