The Irish government has declined a leading Belfast historian's suggestion to set up an independent inquiry to examine previous governments' alleged relationships with the IRA.

Lord Paul Bew, who acted as an historical adviser to the Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday, suggested that a more limited Dublin inquiry could be conducted by a team of historians for a fraction of the $600 million cost of the Saville Inquiry.

The Queen’s University Belfast academic made the suggestion after Irish Deputy Prime Minister Eamon Gilmore said at the British Irish Association in Cambridge on Saturday that it was necessary to acknowledge unionists who feel that 'the Irish state could have done more to prevent the IRA’s murderous activities in border areas.'

Lord Bew was also present during the speech and afterward said that he viewed Gilmore's speech as a positive and genuine move: 'It is a start on facing up to a very difficult question.

'The first thing which I think needs to happen is to do what the British Government did with Bloody Sunday and have a serious, open-minded and potentially self-critical investigation.'

Bew said that would require Dublin to 'open everything' to examination, allowing the historical record to be evaluated.

But Deputy Gilmore yesterday declined to offer any comment on Lord Bew’s demand. Gilmore’s speech came ahead of next week's start to talks on the past, parades and emblems to be chaired by former US envoy Richard Haass.

It is understood that Dublin saw Gilmore’s speech as a confidence-building overture to unionists. Sources in Dublin yesterday related that the Irish government considered it best to remain in 'listening mode' ahead of the talks.

According to the Newsletter, Northern Ireland Conservatives' co-chairman Trevor Ringland has described aspects of Gilmore’s speech as 'helpful and constructive.'

'We’ve seen David Cameron and the government making courageous statements about events like Bloody Sunday and, quite rightly, confronting some of the murkier aspects of the state’s role in the Troubles,' he said.

'Mr Gilmore’s comments will provide some reassurance to victims that the authorities in the Republic of Ireland are prepared to ask questions about their role at that time.'