The Sinn Féin leadership has begun a fight-back against rival republican groups who are seeking to maintain an armed struggle against British rule.
A tense meeting in a republican heartland County Tyrone this week was the first of ten to be organised by the party across the north.
Addressing the meeting, Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness launched a robust attack on “dissident” republicans, who have grown in number and strength in recent months.
Mr Adams warned dissidents not to “hijack” the name of the IRA. But he acknowledged that some former Provisional IRA Volunteers had joined up with the Continuity IRA, Real IRA, and other groups.
He declared that “none of these groups are the IRA; none of these groups are Oglaigh Na hEireann”.
“They have no right to hijack its name or to mimic the army’s actions,” Mr Adams said.
“They cannot match the [Provisional] IRA for ingenuity, for resourcefulness, for courage and for capacity.
“The army took armed struggle as far as it was possible to take it.”
He also paid tribute to republican dead and their families, some of whom attended last nights meeting.
Mr Adams addressed recent dissident criticism of Deputy First Minister Mr McGuinness.
He said some took exception to Mr McGuinness’s “traitors” comment in “an entirely self-serving and negative way”.
While some dissidents were genuinely motivated, Mr Adams said others were motivated by “ego, self-gain and opportunism”.
Later in the meeting, Mr McGuinness was challenged from the floor over Sinn Féin’s performance at in the Belfast Assembly.
One speaker said the DUP had blocked Sinn Féin at every opportunity.
He criticised the failure to deliver an Irish language act, a museum sited on the site of the former Long Kesh prison and other promised policies.
In response, Mr McGuinness said he understood the frustration at the slow rate of progress, but he said one of the key successes of the party was its denial of DUP moves to unionist majority government.
And he claimed he there was a long list of things that Sinn Féin had prevented the DUP from doing, but that he could not reveal.
He also told the meeting that dissidents knew they would never have “the capability of the IRA when they fought the British effectively to a standstill”.
The former Sinn Féin negotiator was later challenged to clarify his description of dissident republicans as “traitors”.
He told the 200-strong crowd that it was never his intention to cause hurt to the families of dead IRA men and women, many of whom he said were close personal friends.
Sinn Féin earlier outlined the plans for public meetings in Ireland and in the US.
“This is part of our commitment to engage with people in Ireland and internationally about the future of Ireland,” said Mr Adams.
Mr Adams said that the public meetings were an attempt to encourage a national ‘conversation’ about the future direction of Ireland and his party’s determination to achieve Irish reunification.
“Sinn Féin seeks to engage with people, and particularly those who genuinely care about the future of Ireland and Irish unity,” he said.
Mr Adams said the debates were an important opportunity for rank and file republicans to speak directly to the Sinn Féin leadership.
“Democracy requires the active participation of citizens and demands that political activists engage directly with local communities,” he said.
Other meetings will take place at Clinton Centre in Enniskillen on Friday and St Mary’s College in Belfast at noon on Sunday.
Other public meetings will take place at the Caledonian in Keady on April 29, Fir Trees Hotel in Strabane on April 30, Downpatrick Arts Centre on May 5, Gulladuff Centre on May 6, Tower Hotel in Derry on May 7 and the Craigavon Civic Centre on May 8.
Separate conferences will take place in New York on June 13 and in San Francisco on June 27.
Meanwhile, Lurgan republican Colin Duffy, who is currently on remand in Maghaberry jail, may stand as a candidate in the forthcoming European elections.
The 41-year-old is planning to contest the June election in protest at the introduction of 28-days detention against dissident republicans in the North.
The prominent critic of the North’s political process had been held for 13 days before being charged earlier this month with a ‘Real IRA’ gun assault on Massareene Britiish Amry base in County Antrim, in which two British soldiers died.
The idea is to be discussed during a forthcoming public meeting in Lurgan. Sitting Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brun currently holds one of the three Six-County seat in the European parliament.
Colin’s brother Paul said yesterday that the idea of running in the election was something they were seriously considering.
“We have organised a campaign committee to challenge all aspects of Colin’s arrest and detention and this is an idea that came up as a result of that,” he said.
“There will be a public meeting, which is a chance for us to discuss the possibilities and see what kind of public support there is for the idea.
“If he does stand it would be as a protest against the manner of his arrest and continuing detention and the injustice, which we as a family see as nothing more than a form of internment.”