Former Tory prime minister John Major said he hoped long-lasting peace was not far away for the people of Northern Ireland
Mr Major said the destruction of arms was crucial for peace
Giving the Children For Peace lecture in Warrington on Friday, the former Conservative leader he hoped they would soon hear the words "war is over".
He was speaking just over 10 years after an IRA bomb exploded in the Cheshire town, killing three-year-old Johnathan Ball and Tim Parry, 12, and injuring 56 other people.
Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, are due in Northern Ireland in six days to publish their blueprint for restoring devolution.
A number of political meetings have taken place ahead of what is seen as a crucial week in the Northern Ireland peace process.
Mr Major said: "A settlement, with goodwill and an outbreak of trust, could be tantalisingly close and, if achieved, would lead to the progressive withdrawal
of troops from Northern Ireland, the monitoring of ceasefires, new policing arrangements, human rights changes and the return of the Assembly.
The war is over. These are words that the people of Northern Ireland have waited too long
He said an end to all "preparations for paramilitary activity" was needed by loyalists and republicans alike.
Mr Major said he hoped for "the end of paramilitary will being enforced on the streets."
He said the destruction of arms could well be the key.
"No-one knows for sure how many weapons there are - especially in the hands of the IRA, the dominant paramilitary group - but the sum total is significant," he said.
Many tons of explosives in secret caches, together with heavy weaponry, rifles and handguns could be hidden and were a threat to peace, he said.
Mr Major recalled a message he had received whilst prime minister in 1991, through a secret channel of communication, from the Army Council of the Provisional IRA.
It said: "The conflict is over but we need your British advice on how to bring it to a close."
'Misinterpret as surrender'
It went on: "We wish to have an unannounced ceasefire in order to hold a dialogue leading to peace.
"We cannot announce such a move as it will lead to confusion to the volunteers, because the press will misinterpret it as a surrender."
A public service was held at the peace centre last month
The note said a public renunciation of violence could not be given, but privately this could be met "as long as we were sure that we were not being tricked".
Mr Major said the message helped to persuade him to continue with the peace process.
He said: "In the following 10 years under successive governments we have come to be in sight of the end of the Northern Ireland tragedy.
"The blood that has been spilled requires that end to be secured.
"So we need a statement again: this time open and acknowledged. The war is over. These are words that the people of Northern Ireland have waited too long
"I hope they will not need to wait much longer. There is a place in history for those Irish leaders prepared to turn those words into reality."
The British and Irish Governments would respond to such a declaration, he said, bringing forth "a new era " for Northern Ireland."
There is a place in history for those Irish leaders prepared to turn those words into reality
Mr Major said the deaths of Tim and Johnathan shook the world.
Both were "an important landmark" he said in the slow progress to what he said was "a now probable future of tolerance, compassion and hope"
"Let that forever be their epitaph," he concluded.