6 April 2005, Dublin, Ireland
I want to speak directly to the men and women of Oglaigh na hEireann, the volunteer soldiers of the Irish Republican Army.
In time of great peril you stepped into the Bearna Baoil, the gap of danger. When others stood idly by, you and your families gave your all, in defence of a risen people and in pursuit of Irish freedom and unity.
Against mighty odds you held the line and faced down a huge military foe, the British Crown Forces and their surrogates in the unionist death squads.
Eleven years ago, the (Irish Republican) Army leadership ordered a complete cessation of military operations.
This courageous decision was in response to proposals put forward by the Sinn Fein leadership to construct a peace process, build democratic politics and achieve a lasting peace.
Since then - despite many provocations and setbacks - the cessation has endured.
And more than that, when elements within the British and Irish establishments and rejectionist unionism delayed progress, it was the IRA leadership which authorised a number of significant initiatives to enhance the peace process.
On a number of occasions, commitments have been reneged on. These include commitments from the two governments.
The Irish Republican Army has kept every commitment made by its leadership.
The most recent of these was last December when the IRA was prepared to support a comprehensive agreement.
At that time, the army leadership said the implementation of this agreement would allow everyone, including the IRA, to take its political objectives forward by peaceful and democratic means.
That agreement perished on the rock of unionist intransigence. The shortsightedness of the two governments compounded the difficulties.
Since then, there has been a vicious campaign of vilification against republicans, driven in the main by the Irish government. There are a number of reasons for this.
The growing political influence of Sinn Fein is a primary factor.
The unionists also for their part, want to minimise the potential for change, not only on the equality agenda but on the issues of sovereignty and ending the union.
The IRA is being used as the excuse by them all not to engage properly in the process of building peace with justice in Ireland.
For over 30 years, the IRA showed that the British government could not rule Ireland on its own terms.
You asserted the legitimacy of the right of the people of this island to freedom and independence. Many of your comrades made the ultimate sacrifice.
Your determination, selflessness and courage have brought the freedom struggle towards its fulfilment.
That struggle can now be taken forward by other means. I say this with the authority of my office as president of Sinn Fein.
In the past I have defended the right of the IRA to engage in armed struggle. I did so because there was no alternative for those who would not bend the knee, or turn a blind eye to oppression, or for those who wanted a national republic.
Now there is an alternative.
I have clearly set out my view of what that alternative is. The way forward is by building political support for republican and democratic objectives across Ireland and by winning support for these goals internationally.
I want to use this occasion therefore to appeal to the leadership of Oglaigh na hEireann to fully embrace and accept this alternative.
Can you take courageous initiatives which will achieve your aims by purely political and democratic activity?
I know full well that such truly historic decisions can only be taken in the aftermath of intense internal consultation. I ask that you initiate this as quickly as possible.
I understand fully that the IRA's most recent positive contribution to the peace process was in the context of a comprehensive agreement. But I also hold the very strong view that republicans need to lead by example.
There is no greater demonstration of this than the IRA cessation in the summer of 1994.
Sinn Fein has demonstrated the ability to play a leadership role as part of a popular movement towards peace, equality and justice.
We are totally committed to ending partition and to creating the conditions for unity and independence.
Sinn Fein has the potential and capacity to become the vehicle for the attainment of republican objectives.
The Ireland we live in today is also very different place from 15 years ago. There is now an all-Ireland agenda with huge potential.
Nationalists and republicans have a confidence that will never again allow anyone to be treated as second-class citizens. Equality is our watchword.
The catalyst for much of this change is the growing support for republicanism.
Of course, those who oppose change are not going to simply roll over. It will always be a battle a day between those who want maximum change and those who want to maintain the status quo.
But if republicans are to prevail, if the peace process is to be successfully concluded and Irish sovereignty and re-unification secured, then we have to set the agenda - no-one else is going to do that.
So, I also want to make a personal appeal to all of you - the women and men volunteers who have remained undefeated in the face of tremendous odds.
Now is the time for you to step into the Bearna Baoil again; not as volunteers risking life and limb but as activists in a national movement towards independence and unity.
Such decisions will be far reaching and difficult. But you never lacked courage in the past. Your courage is now needed for the future.
It won't be easy. There are many problems to be resolved by the people of Ireland in the time ahead.
Your ability as republican volunteers, to rise to this challenge will mean that the two governments and others cannot easily hide from their obligations and their responsibility to resolve these problems.
Our struggle has reached a defining moment.
I am asking you to join me in seizing this moment, to intensify our efforts, to rebuild the peace process and decisively move our struggle forward.