Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has said he is hopeful that a major peace conference in the city of San Sebastian will lead to “a step change” in the the decades-old Basque conflict.
There are widespread expectations that Basque separatist group Eta will respond later this week to a call from delegates to state the conflict with the Spanish government is over for good.
Other veterans of Northern Ireland’s peace process in attendance included former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair’s one-time chief-of-staff, Jonathan Powell, along with former United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan.
But Mr Adams, now a TD for Louth, has been involved in behind-the-scenes contacts for many years aimed at resolving the long conflict between Basque separatists and Spain.
“Today's gathering is a very, very significant step and hopefully we will see a step change in the situation arising from today’s initiative,” said Mr Adams yesterday.
Delegates in San Sebastian yesterday urged Eta to make a definitive rejection of violence, while calling on the Spanish and French governments to open up negotiations with Western Europe's last major terror group should Eta lay down its weapons permanently.
Hopes are high that the three-hour closed-door conference could also act as a catalyst for Eta to announce its dissolution.
There has been speculation the meeting could lead to a choreographed sequence of events which could lead to a resolution.
In a five-point concluding statement read by Mr Ahern, the conference also alluded to conversations with the governments of Spain and France “about the consequences of the struggle”, the usual wording for discussions of the regrouping of convicted Eta members in prisons closer to the Basque Country.
There are 800-odd Eta prisoners scattered around the country in Spanish jails.
In January the armed Basque separatist group called a ceasefire — the first in more than four years — but the move was rejected by Spanish politicians who insisted Eta remained a potential terrorist threat and must disband once and for all.
The group has killed 829 people in bombings and shootings since the late 1960s.
Citing the initiative as a consequence of efforts involving Sinn Fein and others, Mr Adams said he hoped it would lead to significant progress.
He added: “With our ability to speak from a position of some experience... we will be able to help, to encourage, to assist and to persuade all sides to move on and to move into proper dialogue.”