Martin McGuinness has called on dissident Republicans to throw down their arms and embrace the peace process as Northern Ireland celebrates 20 years of the IRA ceasefire.

The North’s Deputy First Minister made the call in a keynote address in Derry when he warned dissidents there is no alternative to dialogue and agreement.

He also urged all those involved in the recent flag protests to consider their role in the search for peace.

Television station UTV reports that the Sinn Fein veteran said: “The absence of dialogue and a commitment to dialogue as the way to overcome disagreements is at the heart of the growing difficulties we are now facing in the peace process across a range of key issues.

“Rather than making progress on the issues of identity, parading and the past by building on the enormously important work carried out by Richard Haass and Meghan O'Sullivan, the DUP and the UUP have now retreated into a coalition with rejectionist unionism and loyalist paramilitaries.”

McGuinness went on to accuse the Democratic Unionist Party of threatening the political institutions three times in the last six months as they failed to get their way on key issues.

He added: “But the real threat to the political institutions is stagnation and the absence of progress.

“The real threat is the retreat of political unionism from dialogue, compromise, agreement and reconciliation.

“I have personally tried to understand and reach out to the unionist population not least in my engagements with Queen Elizabeth. But reconciliation is not a one-way street. Unionist leaders need to engage in similar initiatives.

“So there is an enormous onus on those who recognise the enormous progress we have made, and continue to make, since the IRA cessation in 1994 to make their voices heard.

“There can be no return to the violence and repression that scarred this society for so long.

“I would urge dissident republicans still committed to armed actions to take that same step in 2014 into politics and away from conflict.”

The Stormont deputy leader also said the British and Irish government had a key role to play in efforts to persuade the dissidents to turn away from violence.

And he called on the United States to add its weight to the continuing bid for peace in the North.

He added: “The supporters of the Agreement internationally, in particular in the United States of America, need to reassert their interest and influence.

“The British and Irish governments must be champions for progress not facilitators of inertia.

“These are the challenges for all of us as we enter a new term in the Assembly but I am convinced that we can find a resolution to all the difficulties facing the political process.”