It has been announced that Seán Kelly, the IRA Shankill bomber who was returned to jail in controversial circumstances, has been freed.

Mr Kelly had been serving life sentences for his part in the bomb attack that killed nine civilians and his accomplice, but was freed early under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

He was returned to prison on the orders of the Northern Secretary, Peter Hain, who said there was evidence he had been involved in terrorist activity.

His release comes as US congressman Peter King - who is dedicated to Irish-American affairs - says he is certain that a statement from the IRA will be issued very soon.

Mr King said he believes it will be extremely positive and a dramatic turning point in Irish history.

Earlier, the Taoiseach said he believes we are within days of seeing an enormous change in the situation in Northern Ireland.

Speaking in Galway, Bertie Ahern said he was hopeful that within the next 24 or 36  hours significant progress would be made towards full and final IRA decommissioning. 

He said he was not aware what the expected IRA statement would contain.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin's Chief Negotiator, Martin McGuinness, has refused to be drawn on the timing or content of the expected statement. 

However, Mr McGuinness said he believed the republican movement was up to the challenge of moving the peace process forward. 

He was speaking at Dublin Airport prior to his departure for Washington with the Sinn Féin representative in the US, Rita O’Hare. The visit is seen as further confirmation that an IRA statement is imminent.

Mr McGuinness said he believed that the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement was imperative.

Asked about comments by the Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell, yesterday on the alleged recent departure from the IRA Army Council of certain elected politicians, he said that the less said about Minister McDowell the better. 

Mr McGuinness also refused to be drawn on the minister's remarks about IRA funding.

Asked about parallels between his visit to the US and that of the late IRA leader Joe Cahill to the US a decade ago, Mr McGuinness said he was not interested in history and that the worth of his visit could be judged on his return. 

In 1994 Mr Cahill was given a US visa after the then Taoiseach Albert Reynolds and others petitioned US President Bill Clinton in Washington.

Mr Cahill's arrival in the US coincided with the first IRA ceasefire.
A statement by the IRA about its future could be as important as the ceasefire announcement of 1994.

But there is guaranteed scepticism from unionists regardless of what the IRA says or does in the coming days.

It is thought the DUP and the Ulster Unionists will wait months before showing any willingness to consider power-sharing with Sinn Féin.