Ahead of next month's crucial talks over Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams on Thursday said the dissolution could help in rescuing the stalled  peace process.

"I personally feel that while there are justifiable fears within unionism about the IRA and while people have concerns about the IRA, I think political unionism uses the IRA and the issue of IRA arms as an excuse," Adams said.

"I think republicans need to be prepared to remove that as an excuse, but we who are in leadership will only be empowered to do so if there is a context in which we can make progress," he said.

Disarmament and disbandment of the Irish Republican Army will be key demands of pro-British Protestant unionists at next month's talks.

IRA disarmament

Adams felt the IRA could be persuaded to give up the arsenal which sustained its long and bloody campaign against British rule only in return for substantial concessions from London and the unionists.

"I think republicans need to be prepared to remove that as an excuse, but we who are in leadership will only be empowered to do so if there is a context in which we can make progress"

Gerry Adams
Leader, Sinn Fein

The IRA has been observing a ceasefire since 1997, and in 1998 the Good Friday Agreement was signed, setting up a devolved government in Belfast to share power between the province's pro-British Protestant majority and pro-Irish Catholic minority.

But while violence has fallen sharply since the worst days of the 'Troubles' – the local name for a 30-year conflict which claimed more than 3,600 lives – political progress has been slow.

In October 2002, the power-sharing government broke down when unionists refused to remain in office with Sinn Fein, forcing UK to impose direct rule from London.

Next month London and Dublin will launch what they say is a final attempt to rescue the Good Friday pact, culminating in three days of intensive talks chaired by British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Irish counterpart Bertie Ahern.