Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny insisted yesterday he would never go into government with Sinn Fein while the IRA's army council remains intact.
In a pointed broadside at the republican party during a visit to Belfast, Mr Kenny said while it had made progress in embracing democratic politics, it had not gone all the way.
He ruled out any deal that would see his party and Sinn Fein working together in a future coalition government until the issue of the army council was resolved.
"In our 26 counties, in our republic, we have a situation where we have one army and one army only. I cannot deal with Sinn Fein because the army council (of the IRA) has never been stood down.
"This is an issue in so far as I am concerned that is fundamental to the constitution of our country - the fact that we only have one army.
"I have given Sinn Fein due credit for the distance that they've travelled, (but) that journey in terms of democratic politics has not yet been completed."
Mr Kenny met with Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams and the party's Deputy First Minister at Stormont, Martin McGuinness, on his day-long visit to the North with a delegation of Fine Gael colleagues.
The Opposition leader said the marked differences between his party and Sinn Fein on economic, taxation and European policy issues would also work against a potential partnership.
After the meeting at Parliament Buildings, Mr Adams dismissed Mr Kenny's comments as "silly".
"It is deeply offensive that a senior politician from Leinster House doesn't uphold the democratic rights of that section of the electorate who vote republican and their right to choose whoever they want to represent them," said the West Belfast MP.
"It's nothing to do with the IRA, the IRA have long since left the stage... it was a good meeting, a positive meeting so I don't want to set the wrong tenor, but quite frankly most democrats and republicans and nationalists don't trust Fine Gael on the national question."
Mr Adams said his party had no intention of going into government with Enda Kenny.
But his colleague and Sinn Fein leader in the Dail, Caoimhghin O Caolain, was not as quick to reject a future link up. He said nothing had been ruled in or out, but stressed that any potential partner would have to sign up to their policy framework.
"We have already set a very high mark," said the Cavan Monaghan TD.
"If any other political parties are willing to meet that threshold we will certainly consider it."
© Press Association