The comments from the head of the political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) came amid high level talk aimed at getting rival Catholic and Protestant parties to agree to share power in the province.

“A deal is still possible, but an accommodation, a partnership of equals cannot be built through a process of humiliation,” said Adams.

British Prime Ministe Tony Blair and his Irish counterpart Bertie Ahern are trying to broker a deal between Sinn Fein and the Protestant Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) — a partnership long considered impossible in the bitterly combative world of Northern Ireland politics.

A new deal would involve the IRA destroying all the weapons which sustained its long campaign, and the DUP pledging to go into government with Sinn Fein, whose leaders it has long denounced as terrorists.

Mr Adams said he had given Mr Blair his final opinion on a settlement proposal.

But he said DUP leader Ian Paisley, a 78-year-old hardliner, was making negotiations “very, very difficult”.

The DUP wants photographic proof of IRA disarmament — a potential dealbreaker.

Paisley outraged Sinn Fein in recent days by saying the IRA should “wear sackcloth and ashes… until the sackcloth and ashes wear out” as penance for the province’s past troubles.

Each side blames the other for a 30-year sectarian conflict which claimed more than 3,600 lives until rival paramilitary groups called ceasefires prior to a 1998 peace agreement.

Adams said the issue of the IRA’s weapons could be resolved.

“Sinn Fein believes that this matter can be dealt with to the satisfaction of all reasonable people in the context of a comprehensive agreement,” he told reporters.

Earlier in Dublin, Ahern told the Irish parliament the IRA killers of an Irish police officer could be released from prison early if a political settlement was reached, something demanded by Sinn Fein.