The IRA will cease to exist if there is an irreversible political process in Northern Ireland, a senior Sinn Féin figure said at a briefing for an invited group of journalists in Belfast yesterday.
The figure, who is well-known but refused to allow his name to be used, said: "The reality is that when the IRA talks about an irreversible process of change, when you have that working - whatever is happening within unionist paramilitaries - you are going to see an end to the IRA."
The figure said that if the political process envisaged under the Belfast Agreement had worked to its full potential since Good Friday 1998, then the IRA would not now be an issue. He added: "The logic six years on as we approach Easter is that if this process had worked, these issues of the IRA, in my view, would not be an issue at this time."
It is understood the Sinn Féin delegation, led by Mr Gerry Adams and Mr Martin McGuinness, pressed the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister at Hillsborough on Tuesday to adopt a two-pronged strategy involving the implementation of outstanding aspects of the agreement and the restoration of the Stormont institutions.
The party also wants the governments to adopt a "conflict resolution" strategy.
At yesterday's briefing at Sinn Féin headquarters on the Falls Road, the man briefing journalists said: "The logic of conflict resolution is that the combatants cease to be."
Key Sinn Féin figures admit that the current stagnation in the political process damages the republican strategy - a hint that like the two governments it is prepared to work intensively for an early resolution of current difficulties before the June elections.
Yesterday's remarks by the Sinn Féin figure came as movement is expected soon on politically sensitive issues, all of which could have a bearing on any new and intensive discussions hosted by Mr Ahern and Mr Tony Blair next month.
The Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister could return to Hillsborough next month for an "intensification" of efforts to restore the institutions of the Belfast Agreement. However, this is dependent on clear indications of an end to paramilitary activity.
The long-delayed Cory report on controversial killings is to be made available next week with the report by the Independent Monitoring Commission on paramilitary activity expected shortly afterwards.
A meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference is also timetabled as are proposals from the DUP about North-South arrangements and relations between Dublin and London.
Comments by the North's Chief Constable, Mr Hugh Orde, concerning dismantling of the British military presence - or "normalisation" - are also raising the political temperature.
Mr Orde, quoted in a new edition of a book The Armed Peace by BBC journalist Brian Rowan, claimed the IRA was as prepared as ever for war. "From a policing perspective, we need to be convinced that they've gone away for ever, certainly before the normalisation agenda kicks in," he said.
"My advice to the government at the moment is that we don't see those conditions. Therefore, I don't see normalisation as a debating point."
Both governments continue to insist that the ending of paramilitary activity remains the key to unlocking current difficulties. Mr Blair's official spokesman told The Irish Times: "Paramilitary activity is what has become the obstacle for making progress." He added: "Is the IRA going to stop its activity? Loyalists ditto? We will be expecting unionists to live up to their commitments if that happens. That's it in a nutshell."