Republicans abandoned violence because it was “unsuccessful and inconvenient”, one of the architects of the Northern Ireland peace process has said.
John Alderdice led the Alliance Party from 1987 through to the negotiation of the 1998 Belfast Agreement.
In December 1997 he discussed Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams’ visit to Downing Street and the broader republican leadership, newly-published British government archived documents from the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland show.
He said: “I do not think that there has been any moral change, any change of heart.
“The decision to put violence to the side was taken not because it is wrong but because it has been unsuccessful and inconvenient.”
I have not seen any movement or preparedness to compromise
He said the refusal of unionists to meet Mr Adams at that time in late 1997 may have been unwise.
“I would love to be able to say that, in the considerable number of meetings that my colleagues and I have had with the republican leadership during the ceasefires, I have found genuine preparedness to compromise, to end violence for good and commit the republican movement entirely to the democratic process.
“I wish I could say with conviction that there was real preparedness to meet the unionist representatives or at least the Alliance Party, even halfway, but I cannot.”
He added: “I have not seen any movement or preparedness to compromise.”
The British government had said, following the entry of Sinn Féin to the talks process, that it was to be treated the same as other political parties.
Mr Alderdice said Sinn Féin relentlessly pursued its own political agenda by whatever means.
“But this is precisely why, though some may think it is a paradox, it is important to meet with the republican movement.
“Mr (David) Trimble says that these people are not living in the real world, they are not prepared to talk about an honourable compromise.
“Many nationalists wonder how he can be so sure when he is not prepared to talk to republicans.”
Mr Alderdice said real dialogue was the last thing many republicans wanted.
“In the absence of such contact, there can be no doubt whom the republicans will blame if they go back to violence.
“They will not blame the IRA or themselves for their own refusal to move, they will blame those who refused to meet them.”