Fianna Fáil has appeared to row back on suggestions that Sinn Féin could form part of a coalition government in Dublin following the next 26 County general election.
The party made what was seen as a clear attempt to open a debate on the subject last week by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern.
Party leader and the Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, said on Sunday that his party would uphold what he described as the democratic values of republicanism.
“The future of Ireland will be defined by democracy, not by paramilitaries of any description,” he said.
Speaking at Fianna Fáil’s annual Wolfe Tone commemoration in Bodenstown, County Kildare, he said: “Our Constitution provides for only one army, one Oglaigh na hEireann. With the Good Friday agreement and its implementation, there remains no conceivable justification for maintaining paramilitary armies. Democracy and private armies do not mix.”
He claimed that many of those once involved in the Provisional IRA now accepted that the time had come to draw a line under the conflict against British rule.
“I am certain that the people will not excuse or understand any party failing to take up the historic opportunity of bringing a long era of political violence to an end.”
There was speculation this weekend that the initial comments by Dermot Ahern may have been an attempt to ease the way for Sinn Féin to resume power-sharing with unionists in the North.
Sinn Féin has said little more than that the party will take a strategic approach in negotiations following the election in the South.
Sinn Féin chairman Mitchel McLaughlin has said the party could also support a minority government rather than participating in a coalition, pointing to the failure of the left-wing Labour party under Dick Spring to deliver a social agenda when in government.
“We all remember the Spring revolution, and the very significant advance that was made by the Labour Party. And then, within one term, they were back into what was a net deficit position as a result of not securing the wishes of the electorate that had entrusted them,” he said.
“They fell short on that, and the electorate let them know what they thought about it. We are not going to make that mistake; we are going to learn from it,” McLaughlin said.
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, writing in the newly launched Village Magazine, said “What Sinn Féin is trying to do at this time is unprecedented. We are dealing with the ongoing challenges of the peace process, but continuing at the same time to build for Irish unity and independence, while preparing to be in government in the future.
“But we want social and economic change in the here and now. We want equality now.”
* The Irish Labour Party leader, Mr Pat Rabbitte, has opened up what he described as a “de facto” branch of the Irish Labour Party in the Six Counties.
The new “Northern Ireland Labour Forum”, launched in Belfast, will send delegates to the Labour Party conference and its members will be able to vote in internal Labour elections, including the election of the party’s ruling executive.
Labour effectively now has elected representatives in both parts of Ireland but, said Mr Rabbitte, it had no intention of putting forward candidates to run under the Irish Labour banner in the North.