Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has hit back at political opponents in the 26 Counties for demonising republicans and insisted he will not allow them to set the political agenda.

Mr Adams was speaking at the annual Moley/Burns commemoration ceremony in south Armagh.

Brendan Moley and Brendan Burns, both aged 30, were both killed in a premature explosion in Crossmaglen on the 29th of February 1988.

Mr Adams said he would not accept being lectured by the Dublin government on the patriotic duties of Sinn Féin. He said his party was “totally and absolutely committed” to bringing the peace process to a successful conclusion.

“We are also committed to bringing about Irish unity and independence and to representing all those who vote for us.”

In a political expression of its republican aspirations, Sinn Féin launched a document this week, calling for the Dublin government to bring forward a green paper [a discussion document on government policy] on Irish unity.

The party is calling for the green paper to be referred to a specially constituted parliamentary joint committee “to begin the practical planning for Irish unity now”.

And the Sinn Féin president said his colleague in the Dail, Caoimhghin O Caolain, spoke for republicans across Ireland when he said his party rejected criminality of any kind.

He repeated Mr O Caolain’s comment that: “There is no room in Sinn Féin for other than a clear and unambiguous commitment to democratic politics and the pursuit of our goals by legal and peaceful means.”

O Caolain’s speech, which urged republicans to to cease activities “outside the norms of legitimate political action”, was seen as an olive-branch to the Dublin government amid a major row over unsubstantiated allegations that the Provisional IRA was involved in a bank robbery in Belfast last December.

Mr Adams said republicans had demonstrated their capacity to take great risks to achieve the greatest change. And he added: “Inevitably that will mean more hard choices, more hard decisions for Irish republicans as we push ahead with our political project and as we seek to achieve a united Ireland.

“We are up for the challenge today. We are determined to see all the guns taken out of Irish politics and to be part of the collective effort that will create the conditions where the IRA ceases to exist.

“We are determined that the issues of policing, demilitarisation, human rights and equality are dealt with. But republicans cannot make peace on our own.”

However, 26-County Taoiseach Bertie Ahern continued to take a hard line yesterday, ruling out the release of the Castlerea Four prisoners as long as he remains in power.

The men qualify for release under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, but they have been kept in jail as effective bargaining chips in the ongoing peace negotiations.

Speaking on Limerick radio station yesterday, Mr Ahern said: “I attempted to try to resolve it as part of a comprehensive deal but you know the situation has changed utterly now and whatever negotiations we have in the next round and hopefully we do have, this issue won’t be part of those discussions.”

Asked if that meant there was now no chance of early release he said: “Not on my watch.”

Meanwhile, unionists have continued to call for the exclusion of Sinn Féin from the political process and any future Stormont Assembly in Belfast.

At question time in the House of Commons, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said he believed the best way forward remained one that included all parties but hinted that might not be possible.

He said he was encouraged by recent events.

“I don’t think we should ignore one positive thing that has come out of the last few weeks: the feeling and the strength of feeling about the need to ensure that nobody comes into government in Northern Ireland unless they are exclusively committed to peaceful and democratic means,” Mr Blair said.

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© 2005 Irish Republican News