Sinn Fein's president, Gerry Adams, warned yesterday of dissent within IRA circles over a republican offer to decommission the IRA's entire arsenal as part of a new peace deal.
Mr Adams said that there was "huge trauma" within the republican movement about the IRA offer, which the organisation confirmed yesterday following publication of a joint British-Irish document aimed at a new agreement restoring power-sharing government in Belfast.
An IRA statement said that all its members would be given "specific instructions not to engage in any activity which might endanger that new agreement." The organisation spoke of "moving into a new mode" reflecting a transition to a "totally peaceful society" and declared: "The IRA leadership also decided that we will, in this context, conclude the process to completely and verifiably put all our arms beyond use."
The language has been hailed as hugely significant by the British and Irish governments, but the projected deal stalled when the IRA refused to agree to a demand from the Rev Ian Paisley for photographs of acts of decommissioning.
Ministers from the two governments will hold talks with Belfast parties, principally Sinn Fein and Mr Paisley's Democratic Unionists, next week in an effort to slot home what was yesterday described as the last piece of the jigsaw.
Recriminations continued between the two parties yesterday. Some sources sided with the republicans, saying Mr Paisley had been unreasonable in demanding photographic evidence, when the IRA had been willing to accept two church witnesses to decommissioning.
Others argued that republicans should, for the sake of concluding a historic deal, have given way on the point.
Mr Adams warned, however, that demands for further concessions could increase internal tensions. He said: "There are people who are proud, rightly proud, to have fought the British, people who have resisted attempts to criminalise and humiliate them."
Mr Paisley said: "Another secret act of decommissioning will not satisfy the public. I believe the IRA's reaction is proof that they cannot and will not be honest about the matter of decommissioning."
In the Commons, the Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy said: "I am absolutely convinced that the day when the final piece of the jigsaw can be put in place is not far off."
Ireland's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern, meanwhile, did not support republican assertions that the taking of pictures had never been a possibility.
He said yesterday: "The refusal of photographs wasn't as explicit as is being indicated, in my view. It was always part of the discussions that photographs may be necessary to convince the DUP."
The Labour backbencher Kevin McNamara said there was a legitimate interest in verifying arms were destroyed, but added: "Unionists are entitled to proof but not to trophies."