Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister Eamon Gilmore has held out an olive branch to Ulster Unionists and all but admitted that previous Irish governments should have done more to tackle the IRA.

The Labour Party leader, in two separate engagements at the weekend, responded to unionist claims that successive Irish governments failed to combat the IRA.

The Irish Times reports that Gilmore and his government are prepared to investigate allegations that ‘the State could have done more to thwart the activities of the IRA’.

He told the British-Irish Association conference in Cambridge that they will ‘address a unionist perception of a failure by a number of Irish governments to properly combat the IRA’.

Gilmore said: “We need to acknowledge those unionists who feel that, notwithstanding the sacrifices made by members of An Garda Síochána (police) and the Irish Army throughout the Troubles, the Irish State could have done more to prevent the IRA’s murderous activities in Border areas.

“The Irish State made huge efforts to curb the violence. Successive Irish governments made repeated efforts made to get talks going.”

In a separate interview with The Irish Times on the margins of the Cambridge conference, Gilmore said the Irish government is prepared to engage on the issue in the forthcoming process chaired by American diplomat Richard Haass dealing with the past, parades and flags.

He said: “If there is criticism of the way in which the Irish State handled particular issues I think we have to be able to hear about it.

“The Government will address whatever the criticisms are.”

Gilmore stressed to the Irish Times however that he was not accepting any allegation of Irish State culpability in the actions of the IRA but rather was saying the Government was prepared to confront any unionist perception of such a failure by the State.

He continued: “If you look at the lives that were given by the gardaí (police) and members of the Army, if you look at the various efforts that were made right through the 70s in terms of the security side and then look at repeated efforts made by successive Irish governments to try and get talks going, to try and get a resolution going, I think that the Irish State has a very honourable record in that regard.

“But I think we do have to acknowledge that there are people in the unionist community who question that and do raise the question about whether or not enough was done and I think we have to listen to them.”

Gilmore also told the paper his hope that the Irish Government can persuade Britain’s royal family and political leaders to attend the centenary celebrations of the 1916 Rising in Dublin.

He said:  “I hope we can host representatives of the royal family and the British government, along with the leaders of unionism, in Dublin in three years’ time in remembering the Easter Rising.

“I hope also that three months later we can all respectfully remember those who gave their lives in British uniform at the battle of the Somme”.

Ulster Unionist Party Mike Nesbitt told the Irish Times he would be delighted to accept the invitation, ‘all things being equal’.