Irish American Information Service


10/02/04 17:58 EST

The republican movement is on the verge of an historic transformation, the US special envoy for Northern Ireland has said.

Mitchell Reiss made the comments in a speech to the National Committee on American Foreign Policy in New York on Thursday.

"In Sinn Fein parlance, the ballot box has displaced the Armalite," he said.

Mr Reiss was speaking following political talks at Leeds Castle, Kent, in September which he attended.

The US envoy insisted President Bush and his administration was committed to seeing the political process through to its conclusion.

"Ten years after the first IRA ceasefire, Irish republicans have indicated that they are willing to pursue their objective exclusively through the democratic process," he said.

Mr Reiss said two factors had contributed to a turning point in the republican movement.

The first was Sinn Fein's electoral growth in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

But he also suggested that the international climate after the 9/11 attacks in the United States and the Madrid bombings made it clear that no political movement in western Europe could have any links to terrorism.

"As those who follow this process closely know, republicans thinking has been moving towards this point for some time, but Leeds Castle will likely be remembered as the moment when this strategy was finally accepted as official policy," he said.

"It is critical that we work to ensure that the republican movement follows through on this commitment and that all the loyalists paramilitary groups follow the lead of the IRA. We must also make sure that the devolved institutions are restored in a stable manner that fully preserves power sharing - a fundamental principle of the Agreement."

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